The Effects of Hurricane Irma on the Citrus Industry

Hurricane Irma has left devastation behind that has not only impacted the lives of people but also the growth of certain fruits and vegetables, in particular, citrus. The citrus industry is already struggling, and now many are bracing for the long-term effects of Hurricane Irma on an already fragile industry.

Experts are now concerned that this latest challenge may tilt the scales and cause many growers to go into bankruptcy. This will affect the livelihoods of citrus farmers as well as the consumer who enjoys citrus products. A lot is at stake in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and the unexpected havoc it has brought to the citrus industry in general. Citrus growers will have to start making important decisions concerning their businesses.

Before the storm, growers were contending with citrus greening. Citrus greening is a disease that insects spread that makes citrus fruit green, tasteless (bitter), and not sellable. Because of citrus greening, Florida orange production has declined considerably over the past five years. Now, Hurricane Irma has caused major flooding that has destroyed crops and left long-term stress on citrus trees.

The storm had some impact on the Indian River Citrus District, a 200-mile strip of the eastern seaboard of Florida from Daytona to West Palm Beach. This district is the world’s top grapefruit-producing area. About three fourths of the Sunshine State’s grapefruits are grown in the Indian River District, and a large percentage of grapefruit is shipped to Europe and Asia. One can see the economic value of the grapefruits produced in the Indian River Citrus District.

The 2016-2017 grapefruit harvest is one of the smallest in many years, and Irma did not help the numbers. Efforts to salvage the grapefruits are limited, which puts most growers on the east coast in the red. The citrus industry in Florida employs over 45,000 people and generates billions of dollars in total sales. The reduced production may have devastating implications.

The wrath of Irma, with its strong winds that toppled trees and took unripe fruit off their limbs, has left the citrus industry in shambles. The storm may put some growers out of business.  However, the industry is used to hardships from the past storms. Storms that took place back in 2004 led to considerable reduction in citrus production, in fact, from which the region is still trying to recover. Now, Irma is like putting fuel on the fire, which will ignite more hardships for the declining industry.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is trying to help citrus growers get back on their feet. The agency is relaxing some application rules for federal assistance that will make it easier to obtain relief funds. Many experts believe that growers will not see a normal harvest until 2019 or later. At that time, farmers may be able to recoup their losses. Furthermore, it may take four or five years before newly planted trees are able to create fruit that will be ready for harvest. During this time, growers will have to figure out new ways to survive.