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Hurricane Irma devastates citrus and pecan crops across US east coast

Hurricane Irma has caused widespread devastation across the east coast US. With much of that damage hitting Florida and Georgia, farmers are just now counting the damage to their citrus, vegetable and pecan crops, which took the biggest hit. 

While not directly affected by the hurricane, others states like New Mexico and Mississippi are wondering how the reduced crop could affect produce prices in the coming months.

Putnam, a Bartow resident, called the impacts “extensive” for growers, particularly those in the struggling citrus industry. Even before Irma, the 2016-2017 orange harvest was down 16 percent from the prior year, while the grapefruit harvest dropped 28 percent in the same time.

“In Southwest Florida, we have early estimates as high as 70 to 80 percent of fruit in the citrus industry on the ground. Keep in mind that that would be what is now among the largest growing areas of the state and a crop that is a fraction of its former size,” Putnam said.

He said such crop losses present a “unique and existential threat” to the industry and the state's processing capacity. Putnam said widespread flooding also poses a danger to the citrus industry.
While Florida was in all the headlines, Georgia farmers are also suffering from the effects of Irma. Georgia's agriculture commissioner and the US Secretary of Agriculture have canvassed Middle and Southwest Georgia and seen the number Irma did on pecans grown in the state.

Commissioner Gary Black and Secretary Sonny Perdue said pecan growers lost an estimated 30 percent of their crop - either from fallen fruit or limbs or toppled trees. 

After the heavy losses, produce prices are expected to skyrocket in Mississippi due to the damage done to citrus and vegetable crops in Florida. 

Many markets and restaurants on the coast get fruits and vegetables from Gulf Coast Produce. Mike Alise brings in the bulk of the those products from Florida. 

"It's where you get your tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, egg plant, and all those types of vegetables," Alise said. "Tomatoes jumped $5 in just a few days."

When Irma blew through the Sunshine State, it created havoc for Florida's crops.  As a result of the loss of those crops, prices are going up. 

Florida's most well-known export is oranges. If Alise can't buy his oranges from Florida, he's going to have to look elsewhere, which means it will cost him more. 

New Mexico
University of New Mexico Assistant Finance Professor Reilly White says for the most part the Hurricanes won't have a drastic impact on consumers' wallets in the state.

“Orange juice future shot up about 20 percent right after the hurricane, that means more expensive OJ. There is a silver lining though -- the prices are still lower than they were last year," White said. 

Florida produces the majority of citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits grown in the U.S. but White said U.S. is looking into other sources overseas. 

And as long as Hurricane Jose doesn't affect Massachusetts, cranberry prices should still be okay.

But White said price of grapefruit will continue to climb and it will leave a bitter taste in shoppers' mouths.

Publication date: 9/18/2017


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