GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hurricane-strength winds are expected across nearly 175,000 acres of citrus groves as Hurricane Ian follows its track along the Florida peninsula. An additional 200,000-plus acres of Florida’s hallmark crop may see tropical storm-force winds.
Agriculture is a significant contributor to the state’s economy, producing over 300 commodities from livestock to aquaculture to fruit and vegetable crops.
“When hurricanes hit citrus groves, it’s not always 100% of the fruit that will fall off the tree, but storms with stronger winds tend to drop a larger amount of fruit, especially when the storms hit later in the growing season,” said Christa Court, University of Florida economist and director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program. “This is why we conduct surveys of producers after such weather events, to assess the short-term impacts to their operations. Depending on the month and the type of commodity, as well as whether the storm brings stronger winds, heavier precipitation, or both, these effects can be minimal to catastrophic.”
In 2019, the seasonal crops, livestock, nursery, forest, fishing, and aquaculture products produced in the region are valued at approximately $10 billion and directly support over 120,000 jobs, and that’s not including related economic contributions in supporting industries.
The counties under severe weather watches and warnings are major producers of several agricultural products. The seasonal crops currently in the ground include over 200,000 acres of fresh market vegetables, like cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes; over 180,000 acres of hay; and 95,000 acres of field crops, like cotton and peanuts. Most of the acreage – over 3 million – is grazing land, and at least 70,000 acres house livestock like beef and dairy cattle and horses.
It so happens, Court notes, that Hurricane Ian’s arrival coincides with the usual timeframe for plantings of most crops in the region. The crops in harvest now include avocado, oranges, grapefruit, carambola, corn, peanuts and sweet potatoes.
The post-storm assessment surveys, completed via an online survey tool or paper survey by local Florida Cooperative Extension agents or producers themselves, aim to capture impacts to production and sales revenues for the wide variety of commodities covered. Even ancillary components of operations can be affected, although Court adds that these will not necessarily be captured quantitatively within the survey.
“After the storm passes, assessing the damages might not be a quick process, depending on power and telecommunication outages, limited access to farms and ranches due to flooding, and other challenges,” Court said. “Other effects might only appear in the long-term, including problems like soil salinity affected by storm surge along the coast. The point is that each commodity, each farm, sees different impacts, even in the same area during the same weather event. It is our goal to capture as much information as we can, and that the information we collect can assist in their recovery and preparations for the next event.”
In addition to producers’ fields, also at risk in the region are several UF/IFAS buildings that house programs to support growers and others in these communities. In addition to sites at or near the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, each county has an Extension office; there are Research and Education Center sites in Apopka, Balm, Belle Glade, Cedar Key, Citra, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Hastings, Immokalee, Lake Alfred, Ona, Plant City, Vero Beach; and 4-H Camp Cloverleaf is in Lake Placid.
–Kirsten Romaguera, UF/IFAS