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Most exotic and tropical produce completely lost

Florida produce industry assesses the damage of hurricane Irma

Florida growers of exotic and tropical produce were severely impacted by hurricane Irma last week. “Virtually all farms and groves in Miami Dade county were affected by the storm in one way or another,” says Peter Leifermann with Brooks Tropicals. “Overall, we estimate about 90 percent of the remaining Florida avocado crop was lost due to Hurricane Irma,” Leifermann said. “There are some groves that have not been fully assessed because the rows are blocked by downed trees and limbs – there is a lot of clean-up work to be done. We do have some groves of late varieties that are located more north that central Homestead and were spared the worse of it, but even those groves lost some fruit,” he added.

Avocado tree. Source: Terra Fresh Foods

Supply gap
As a result of the hurricane, SlimCado avocado availability will be extremely limited until Brooks Tropicals begins its Dominican season around the first week in October. “We are looking at only a three-week supply interruption,” Leifermann said. The company’s carambola season was entering a peak, but limited supplies will be maintained through the coming months. “We look forward to our normal winter crop coming in January.” Brooks’ passion fruit vines were severely damaged as well and Leifermann does not expect a full return until May 2018. The guava grove that was damaged is expected to rebound strongly. Remarkably, the company’s dragon fruit plants weathered the storm. “Hardly any fruit was lost and even much of the bloom withstood the storm,” Leifermann mentioned. “For some fruit, there is a logical increase in wind-scar.”

Longan and carambola loss close to 100 percent
“We're still assessing the full scope of the damage, but the impact, unfortunately, is significant,” says Marc Holbik of Ecoripe Tropicals. “We believe losses of certain tree fruit, such as longan and carambola, could be close to 100 percent for the rest of season." The longan season generally runs from June to the end of October and carambola is June through February. As a result of the fruit loss, prices for longan just doubled. The good news, adds Holbik, is that it hopes that despite the loss of production, the trees themselves will be fine and ready to produce for next season. 

Terra Fresh Foods sustained similar damage. “Anything that is grown out of Florida – passion fruit, star fruit, avocados, okra – was definitely affected,” says Maria Gutierrez with Terra Fresh Foods. “The flowers that were in the trees are all gone,” she continued. “The plants and the trees are still there, but due to the loss of flowers, we won’t get fruit from the trees this coming season. Carambola trees are more mature, so they will recover,” she added. Passion fruit however, grows on a vine and is much weaker than a tree. Those vines won’t be able to recuperate by themselves. The passion fruit was growing south of Miami, in Redmond. “To prepare for the hurricane, we tried to pick and pack as much fruit as we could. The fruit that is not ready to be picked was left on the vine and we just hoped for the best.” 

Avocado grove. Source: Terra Fresh Foods

Okra is completely gone
“Okra is an item that’s completely gone and there won’t be any okra for at least three weeks. All those items that are grown in the south of Florida will take a while to recuperate. The carambola season is going to end sooner, causing a supply gap. “We’ll have fruit for two more weeks and then we won’t have anything until the end of November. 

Pricing up
"The market has already gone up," says Gutierrez. "Star fruit, before the hurricane, was about $10-$12. Prices yesterday opened up between $15-$20; a huge jump in the market. Local okra is all wiped out. As far as passion fruit, if anyone has anything right now, they would be able to sell it for high $40s, even $50/box. Usually it runs for $34-$36."

Rosh Hashana
This time of year, the Jewish festivity Rosh Hashanah pulls a lot of demand for exotic fruit. “That additional demand is really hurting because there’s nothing to supply that demand,” Gutierrez said. The hurricane hit right at the time of the holiday. “Normally, Rosh Hashana allows us to move a decent amount of volume and get decent prices for the growers. This year, it’s going to be a huge loss not only by not having sales but because of the effect that that’s going to have for the rest of the year.” 

Written by Astrid van den Broek and Rebecca Dumais.

For more information:
Peter M Leifermann
Brooks Tropicals, LLC.
Tel: 305-247-3544 l

Marc Holbik
Ecoripe Tropicals
+1 305 889 1734

Maria Alejandra Gutierrez
Terra Fresh Foods, LLC 
Tel: +1 786 553 6900

Publication date: 9/19/2017
Author: Rebecca D Dumais
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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