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Weather just one of the issues affecting Florida this season

In September, Hurricane Irma came battling into Florida and its effects on farmers and the state’s vital agriculture industry was massive. Considering the storm traveled the entire length of the state, heavy rains and devastating winds left practically no area unharmed.

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, based in Maitland, FL, noted after the storm that everything from livestock to sugarcane to field crops was adversely affected and the entire ag industry was going to be feeling the impact for some time.

“There will be a ripple effect felt throughout the industry affecting processing facilities, packinghouses and other related operations,” he said.

Take this year’s citrus crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the 2017-18 crop would wind up being the smallest in volume in almost 75 years, with projections of up to 70 percent of pre-Irma expectations wiped out. That will result in approximately $775 million in losses.

Nick Politis, sales manager for Mr. Greens Produce, based in Miami, said that while things weren’t as bad as originally expected, the storm still wreaked havoc on growers all over, and that’s going to result in lower yields in the months ahead.

Of the numerous farms the company deals with, many are complaining about the issues that Irma has caused and some are predicting it will affect the entire season — especially the tomato crop.

Some of the vegetable farmers were not hit as hard because things weren’t in the ground yet, but the preparations were already under way when Irma hit, and that led to delays and some damage.

Joel Silverman, president of Lakeland, FL-based Paradise Produce Distributors, said that for those growers who already had crops in the ground, the plants needed to be replanted again. The industry vet has seen plenty of storms in this lifetime, but hasn’t seen many that has caused problems for as many as Irma has.

“The people that use transplants out of the greenhouse, there’s only an X number of those available so there wasn’t enough for the state to fully fill in for what was needed,” he said. “That’s going to lead to a decrease in volume to some extent, plus we’re going to be a little bit later coming in.”

“This year we have seen a shrinkage of produce packers in the state of Florida because of past adverse economic conditions in the produce industry,” said Chuck Weisinger, president of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., based in Fort Meyers, FL. “This has been exacerbated by the rotten weather conditions this year, due to historic rainfall, near flood conditions and Hurricane Irma, that has virtually destroyed our citrus harvest this year — as well as our early vegetable crops.”

He also cites the reduction in Florida acreage due to the further closing of tomato and vegetable companies in Florida as something that will impact the volume of tomatoes and peppers in 2018.

“Another problem in Florida, especially in November, December and January, is the fact that most produce harvesting is done on an incentive basis, with harvesters paid by the bucket of produce picked; so, the more volume harvested, adds up to more pay for the crew,” he said. “This means that the shipper has to initiate more quality control and we have to instruct our ‘Bird Dogs’ to do the ‘sniff and taste’ test on the produce we are asked to buy.”