After Hurricane Ian, Florida citrus and agriculture struggle

Oct 15, 2022, 5:58 AM | Updated: Oct 16, 2022, 12:08 pm

ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — The thousands of oranges scattered on the ground by Hurricane Ian’s fierce winds like so many green and yellow marbles are only the start of the disaster for citrus grower Roy Petteway.

The fruit strewn about his 100-acre (40-hectare) grove in central Florida since the storm swept through will mostly go to waste. But what are even worse are the flood and rain waters that weakened the orange trees in ways that are difficult to see right away.

“For the next six months we’ll be evaluating the damage,” Petteway said in an interview at his farm, where he estimates about a 40% crop loss. “You’re going to have a lot of damage that will rear its head.”

Citrus is big business in Florida, with more than 375,000 acres (152,000 hectares) in the state devoted to oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and the like for an industry valued at more than $6 billion annually. Hurricane Ian hit the citrus groves hard, as well as the state’s large cattle industry, dairy operations, vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, and even hundreds of thousands of bees essential to many growers.

“This year will be tough, no one is disputing that, but I believe in the tenacity and passion of our citrus industry professionals to come back stronger than ever,” said Nikki Fried, commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The orange forecast for 2022-2023, released Wednesday, puts production at about 28 million boxes, or 1.26 million tons, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. That’s 32% below the year before and does not account for damage from the hurricane, which will surely worsen those numbers.

Most Florida oranges are used to make juice, and this season’s drastically lower harvest, combined with the still-unquantified slam from Ian, will press prices upward and force producers to rely even more heavily on California and imported oranges from Latin America.

“This is a gut punch. There’s no doubt about it,” said Matt Joyner, CEO of the Florida Citrus Mutual trade association. “You’ve really got about 72 hours to get the water off these trees before you start sustaining significant damage if not mortality. Trees need water to grow. They don’t need to be standing in water.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who appeared at a Florida Citrus Mutual event this week in Zolfo Springs, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southeast of Tampa, said about $3 billion in federal funding is needed to cover costs from loss of crops and trees. And, Rubio told about 500 people at the gathering, it’s crucial not to let the storm make agricultural land disappear.

“When you lose land, and what happens is people can’t afford to keep doing this anymore, and that land is taken. It’s gone,” the Republican senator said. “I’ve never seen a mall turned back into agricultural land.”

Then there are the bees.

The University of Florida estimates that about 380,000 known bee colonies were in the path of Hurricane Ian as it bisected the state. The storm not only damaged the beehives themselves, but also blew off blossoms, leading some bees to raid other colonies for the honey they need to eat.

“Masses of honeybee colonies submerged in water are in distress,” the Florida Farm Bureau said in a statement. “Bee pollination is critical to the livelihood of our state’s plants and crops, and is just one example of the long-term effects of this deadly storm.”

More than 100 people died in Florida from the storm, about half of those in hardest-hit Lee County, where the powerful Category 4 hurricane came ashore with 155 mph (259 kph) winds on Sept 28.

Hardee County, home to Petteway’s citrus and cattle operation, recorded four of those storm-related deaths. Adding to that tragedy, the long-term effects on the farm industry will add broad impacts on the community.

“If you eat, you’re part of agriculture,” Petteway, a fifth-generation Floridian, said during the tour of his groves. “We were anticipating a very good crop this year. Sadly, there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s just a devastating thing.”

As Petteway drove around on a golf cart, in a neighboring pasture he spotted a brand-new donkey foal he hadn’t noticed before the hurricane. Coincidentally, not long after the storm passed, his wife gave birth to a daughter, now just over week old.

The people in these rural parts of Florida, he said, will recover as they always have.

“This was going to be the first good year in a while,” he said. “We’re a resilient bunch. This is just another hurdle.”


For more coverage of Hurricane Ian, go to: https://apnews.com/hub/hurricanes

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023...

Associated Press

Trump seethes through the start of trial in New York lawsuit accusing him of lying about his wealth

Former President Donald Trump spent a day in court Monday for the sometimes testy start of a trial in a fraud lawsuit that could cost him control of assets.

22 hours ago

FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the chamber at the Capitol in Washingt...

Associated Press

McCarthy rejects Senate spending bill while scrambling for a House plan that averts a shutdown

A government shutdown appeared all but inevitable as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy dug in Thursday.

5 days ago

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)...

Associated Press

Kari Lake reportedly plans to launch US Senate bid in Arizona for seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

Republican Kari Lake will soon launch her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by independent Kyrsten Sinema, a senior adviser said Thursday.

5 days ago

Republican presidential candidates, from left, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jers...

Associated Press

3rd Republican presidential debate is set for Nov. 8 in Miami, with the strictest qualifications yet

The third Republican presidential debate will be held in Miami on Nov. 8, a day after several states hold off-year elections.

11 days ago

During the equinox, the Earth’s axis and its orbit line up so that both hemispheres get an equal ...

Associated Press

The fall equinox is here. What does that mean?

The equinox arrives on Saturday, marking the start of the fall season for the Northern Hemisphere. But what does that actually mean?

11 days ago

Ray Epps Ray Epps, an Arizona man who became the center of a conspiracy theory about Jan. 6, 2021, ...

Associated Press

Ray Epps, an Arizona man who supported Trump, pleads guilty to Capital riot charge

Ray Epps, the target of a conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.


Mayo Clinic

Game on! Expert sports physicals focused on you

With tryouts quickly approaching, now is the time for parents to schedule physicals for their student-athlete. The Arizona Interscholastic Association requires that all student-athletes must have a physical exam completed before participating in team practices or competition.

After Hurricane Ian, Florida citrus and agriculture struggle