Florida agriculture took a wallop from Hurricane Ian last year. Throw in another hurricane (Nicole) and a freeze, and the disaster losses stacked up. The state’s citrus industry took a particularly hard hit.
On Jan. 17, citrus industry representatives headed to Tallahassee to testify before the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee about the toll these weather events had on an already struggling industry. Those who testified included Christa Court, director of the Economic Impact Analysis Program, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS); Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus; Matt Joyner, executive vice president/chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM); and Glenn Beck, Beck Brothers Citrus. Beck currently serves as FCM president.
Court provided data from UF/IFAS analysis of the storm damage from Hurricane Ian. She said the final assessment for citrus losses came in at $247 million, with virtually all commercial acreage in the state feeling some impact from the storm. She added a large swath of citrus acres experienced all the effects of strong winds, heavy rains and flooding.
Shepp testified to provide perspectives on how important the citrus industry remains despite all its challenges. It contributes $7 billion to the state’s economy, supplying 32,524 jobs.
Shepp also pointed out one important note regarding the data collected by UF/IFAS: It only accounted for fruit loss, not tree loss. Data collected by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates tree loss to be 8% to 11% of the state’s 55.75 million commercial trees.
Many growers lost their crop for the season and are dealing with tree replacement or rehab. Beck said that all of this, along with the year’s long fight against HLB, has depleted their financial resources. He added that input costs doubling or tripling due to inflation has only made the challenge harder.
Beck is encouraged by recent advancements in research that seem to be helping growers live with HLB. He said growers who are still in citrus are “hard-core” and want to stay in production but will need financial assistance to bridge the gap between these weather disasters and another season.
“We have been hit by a series of unprecedented events that has brought the industry to the point where it is now,” Beck said. “Long-term, it is not sustainable, with greening being at the root of it all.”
But he added there was evidence new therapies were beginning to have a positive effect before last year’s storms. He encouraged the senators not to give up on the state’s signature crop and reminded them when farmland leaves, rooftops often follow.
“While that (urban development) is an important part of our economy, you can’t pave over the entire state,” Beck said.