Florida farms are underwater and without power, delaying critical planting season

New York
CNN Business

About 15% of Nick Wishnatzki’s 650-acre family strawberry farm was damaged by Hurricane Ian. His fields in Duette, Fla., are under water and the plastic used to protect fields carefully prepared for the planting season in November was torn away by Ian’s 100mph winds. This sent Wishnatzki scrambling to get back on track.

“I think it’s going to set us back about a week,” said Nick Wishnatzki, public relations manager and fourth-generation owner at Wish Farms. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about market prices, a week can mean a big chunk of your bottom line as a farm.

But he considers himself one of the lucky ones. Its cooling and refrigeration facility in Plant City, Fla., was restored Friday morning, but its second facility just a bit south in Manatee County was still dark.

“We can manage like this for a few weeks, but anything beyond that will be a challenge,” Wishnatzki said. “These facilities are critical during harvest season because we…chill berries from the field to maintain quality and shelf life.”

Millions of other Floridians, including farmers, are still surveying their damage and awaiting power.

“This will be a major event for agriculture,” said Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture. “Dairy farmers need immediate generators to milk cows.”

The main agricultural season in Florida is from November to May. But many farmlands and ranches cannot even be inspected for damage because they are still inaccessible. Farmer groups always try to connect with farmers and herders on the ground. But connectivity remains an issue.

“We anticipate that it may be several days – and in some cases, weeks – before we know the full extent of the impact on Florida growers,” Christina Morton, director of communications for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Citrus crops could be devastated as Hurricane Ian tore through 400,000 of the 450,000 acres of citrus fields, according to Fried. Florida is the top citrus producer in the United States and agriculture is the state’s second largest industry behind tourism with three hundred crops planted and harvested over the next few months.

Fall vegetables have been destroyed statewide, the Florida Farm Bureau said. Peppers, tomatoes and green beans are “gone”. Many honey bee colonies are submerged in water and in distress, the office said, threatening pollination.

Citrus production was already at its lowest level for 55 years due to greening – a bacterial disease that kills citrus fruits, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

“When hurricanes hit citrus groves, not always 100% of the fruit falls from the tree, but storms with stronger winds tend to drop more fruit, especially when storms hit later in the growing season,” Christa writes. Court, a University of Florida economist and director of the UF/IAS Economic Impact Analysis Program.

Photos taken Thursday by the University of Florida’s Economic Impact Analysis Program after Hurricane Ian hit the Manatee/Hardee County area show uprooted citrus trees surrounded by flooding and hundreds of citrus fruits on the ground.

“Citrus damage is concerning and could have a multi-year effect on production, driving numbers even further below greening levels,” said John Walt Boatright, director of national affairs for the Florida Farm Bureau.

Orange futures climbed 10% as Ian made landfall and were up another 2% on Friday.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Christa Court’s name.

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