Archive for February, 2018

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — In the hours after Hurricane Irma raked up Florida’s spine, warm sunshine revealed thousands upon thousands of pieces of citrus fruit bobbing in muddied, stagnant water.

Millions of dollars worth of oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines were ripped from their branches by fierce winds, never to reach their intended destination of breakfast plates and juice glasses.

It was the nightmare many sleepless farmers prayed they wouldn’t see.

“I remember … heading out to the fields as soon as it was safe to get out on the roads and being taken back at how much fruit was blown on the ground … and how many trees had just been blown over,” said one citrus farmer, William Roe III, 35, known as Gee.

“We were literally blown away by the severity of the damage,” said Roe’s uncle, Quentin Roe, 59, the chief executive of Wm. G. Roe & Sons, a longtime grower and distributor.

Irma knocked 50 to 90 percent of Florida’s citrus fruit to the ground in places, according to the state commissioner of agriculture, Adam Putnam, causing $760 million in damage in the worst year for Florida oranges since 1945.

But more was damaged than just a year’s crop. Citrus accounts for approximately 45,000 full- and part-time jobs in the state. Hurricane Irma is credited with wiping out nearly 56,000 jobs directly and indirectly tied to Florida’s agricultural sector and dealing a $2.39 billion blow

to labor income.

The storm also signaled the end of a way of life for many farmers who lost their harvest. Those who had no one to pick what remained have since given up and sold their land.

Many were already reeling before the winds and rain hit, thanks to a crippling disease known as citrus greening, which has ravaged crops here for years. Greening was responsible for a 31 percent decline in employment in the industry from 2012 to 2015.

Last year was eagerly anticipated to be a comeback year for an industry that produces 60 percent of the citrus fruits consumed in the United States. Instead of a revival, they got Hurricane Irma.

For consumers, that is likely to mean paying higher prices for juice. For Florida’s farmers, and the industry that became synonymous with the state, the future is far less certain.


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