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Florida citrus industry focused on hurricane season, protecting crops

We’re in the middle of hurricane season, and it’s all eyes on the tropics. Growers must plan ahead to protect our state’s citrus supply. Hurricane Irma is a previous, destructive example of the damage mother nature can bring to the state’s citrus crop.

We looked at what farmers must do to keep fruit on the table during hurricane season.

From diseases to storms, citrus grove operators must be prepared.

“Things for us have just been extremely challenging,” said Jim Snively, the vice president of grove operations for Southern Gardens Citrus in Clewiston.

Snively knows the ups and downs of the citrus industry.

“Hurricane Irma caused us about a 65% fruit loss,” Snively recalled.

Hurricanes can beat groves to a pulp.

“We’re doing a lot of drainage because this is the rainy season, so we’re trying to keep our water tables down,” Snively.

This is not something Snively and Southern Gardens Citrus are alone in doing.

That’s where people such as Dr. Fernando Alferez come in. Alferez, who has a Ph.D. in plant biology, is an assistant professor and citrus horticulturist with UF/IFAS Extension Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. He co-authored a manual to help citrus growers prepare and recover from hurricanes.

“You know all of the things that you have in your farm, and you keep a record of those,” Alferez said.

Statewide, Irma wiped out 70% of Florida’s citrus crop back in 2017.

While produce from other states or countries can fill that gap in the meantime, a mapped-out recovery can help Southwest Florida growers rebound after a storm season.

Alferez also suggests growers concentrate on securing hazardous chemicals and having machinery ready for the aftermath, an aftermath that Snively said has the potential of impacting the supply chain.

“The processor will pay the grower more money because there’s less fruit, so it causes that kind of impact, which in turn, can cause an issue for the consumer,” Snively said.

MORE: USDA- Citrus Producers Guide for hurricane season

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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