Hurricane Ian's path through southwestern and central Florida left behind damage to citrus orchards and fall-planted crops as well as to buildings, equipment and fencing, industry officials say.

“There’s a broad swath of activity that’s happening in that southwest Florida area that we’re concerned about,” University of Florida economist Christa Court said. “We don’t have enough data coming in from the field yet to really place a number on a lot of that, but we are hearing about significant infrastructure damage.”

The storm first made landfall in Cuba on Tuesday, before surging through the southwestern coast of Florida with Category 4 winds. Ian, with sustained 90-mile-per-hour winds, then plowed through the center of the state Thursday before moving up into South and North Carolina. 

The high winds and flooding knocked fruit from trees prior to harvest in the state’s citrus belt, uprooted recently planted fall vegetables and entirely submerged honeybee colonies, according to the Florida Farm Bureau. The group has received reports of flooded vegetable fields as far north as St. Augustine, as well as livestock and dairy losses and damage to greenhouses, irrigation systems and machinery.

“It will take days or weeks to assess the damage of Hurricane Ian,” Rachael Smith of the Florida Farm Bureau told Agri-Pulse in an email. “Many farm families are still cutting their way through down trees and power lines and battling flooded roads and blown-out culverts to evaluate the damage.”

Florida ranked first in the United States in the value of production for oranges, sugarcane, fresh market tomatoes and watermelons in 2020, according to the Florida Department of Food and Agriculture. The state ranked second in the value of production for strawberries and third in cabbage, grapefruit and fresh market sweet corn. 

Christina Morton, the director of communications for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said the organization is watching for impacts to green beans, sweet corn, sugar cane and tomatoes. Some of these crops, she noted, were just planted recently.

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“I do know that in some cases growers will be able to replant, given where we were in season, Morton said. “But we’re waiting to hear what some other growers may be seeing in their fields and what steps might look like.”

Morton said most growers were a few weeks away from harvesting citrus, although some pockets of the state had already begun. She said standing water is a concern for citrus growers because it impacts a tree’s ability to produce, noting that many of the states’ producers were still feeling crop impacts from Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“If we see standing water for weeks, what does that look like for the industry? That remains to be seen,” she said.

Morton said that based on early feedback, it’s likely that her organization will be pushing for federal assistance for affected growers. Many of the state’s specialty crop growers cannot rely on crop insurance, because of a lack of availability, Morton said. Those that do qualify often choose not to use it because premiums are high and payouts are low, she added. 

Photo by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.