Growers and a University of Florida economist report minimal agricultural damages along the state's east coast.
LAKELAND – Florida citrus growers and agriculture dodged a slow-moving bullet called Hurricane Dorian, escaping the storm’s pass along the Atlantic coast with no visible damage.
“We dodged it – a big bullet, a cannonball,” said George Hamner Jr., president of Indian River Exchange Packers in Vero Beach, a fresh citrus packinghouse and a major grapefruit grower, on Friday.
Dorian had posed the greatest risk to grapefruit because its size makes it vulnerable to be blown off in heavy winds. The storm caused no visible damage to the grapefruit crop, Hamner said.
Christa Court, an economist and director of the University of Florida’s Economic Impact Analysis Program, also reported minimal damage to grapefruit or other agriculture along the east coast based on her survey of local agriculture officials following Dorian’s pass.
“I’ve received ‘no impact’ reports from seven of Florida’s Atlantic coast counties, which is great news,” said Court, an assistant professor with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, in a Thursday UF statement.
Those reports included St. Lucie and Indian River counties, which combined account for about 80% of Florida’s grapefruit crop.
Those counties experienced steady winds of 25 to 30 mph for about 12 hours and an estimated 2 to 4 inches of rain during Dorian’s pass, Hamner said.
The area experienced less rain from Dorian than it had from several heavy rainfalls during the month of August, he said.
But Hamner and Court could not discount some damages surfacing in the coming weeks and months.
“Even though there is no visible damage now, there is the potential for damage later, such as premature fruit drop,” Hamner said. “Altogether we are euphoric.”
Court noted in an email to The Ledger that Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused both immediate and longer-term damage to the state’s citrus trees, particularly additional fruit drop from damaged branches.
“I don't expect that there would be significant medium- or long-term impacts after this event since the eye stayed far enough offshore that precipitation amounts weren't very high and the wind speeds were on the lower side of the tropical storm force wind scale,” Court said. “Our program is now working to not only collect information on the acute short-term losses and damages in the immediate aftermath of disaster events but to also follow up with producers after weeks or months have passed to assess if additional losses or damages have occurred.”
Court is working with UF agriculture extension agents in all the affected counties, she added.
“The eye of the hurricane was far enough offshore that the citrus groves in our east coast counties didn’t see much effect except for stiff winds,” said Michael Rogers, director of the UF Citrus Research and Education Center, in the statement. “There are about 70,000 acres of citrus in production in the Indian River area, and overall they came through just fine. Our extension specialists are ready to assist growers who did suffer fruit drop or other impacts.”
Florida produces about 300 agricultural commodities, and Dorian also threatened many of them in the coastal counties, Court said.
That includes Volusia County the state’s No. producer of high-value cut-flower and cut-florist greens sector as well as the No. 2 producer of floriculture and bedding crops and a top grower of nursery stock, she said. A local commercial horticulture extension agent in Volusia told Court that fern producers she’d contacted were reporting no losses.
Other agricultural entities, including packinghouses and nurseries, also escaped damage.
“All the major fresh fruit packinghouses also came through without any damage and the industry is cautiously watching the tropics for any future storm development as it is looking forward to a season with excellent fruit quality in the weeks and months ahead,” said Doug Bournique, executive director of the Indian River Citrus League, the grapefruit industry’s trade group.
Kevin Bouffard can be reached at email@example.com or at 863-802-7591.