Florida’s citrus industry hit hard by Hurricane Irma

World Today

Florida’s citrus industry is feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma. The storm destroyed up to 70 percent of the state’s orange crop, which could impact the prices of orange juice and other products. CGTN’s Steve Mort reports.

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Surveying the damage to his crops, Ron Mahan says this year’s hurricane season has been devastating.

“Our counts show about a 70-75 percent loss of the crop that we would have been harvesting this next year,” Ron Mahan, the CFO of Tamiami Citrus said.

The oranges would have been picked starting in November, but now sit decaying on the ground. Many were blown right off of the trees, and those that remain attached are damaged.

Mahan estimates Hurricane Irma could cost his company up to $900,000 in lost revenue. But the losses cut deeper than just this year’s harvest. His company spent about $65 million on new trees in recent years. Now, however, thousands sit damaged or destroyed and must be replaced. Those that remain need constant care.

“We have spent six or seven hundred thousand dollars in labor just getting the irrigation lines back in line where they’re supposed to be, and making making sure that those trees are healthy,” Mahan said.

Florida’s citrus growers say the storm is compounding the problems facing an already beleaguered industry, which has been battling a crippling crop disease.

Citrus greening, a condition caused by bacteria and was first discovered in China, has decimated the state’s citrus industry, affecting as much as 90 percent of its trees. Production has plunged from 242 million boxes in the 2003-2004 season, to just 78 million in 2016.

Mahan believes that number could drop to as low as 40 million in the upcoming harvest.

“It was like a double punch,” Mahan said. “This is the first hurricane we’ve had that’s impacted us while we’ve had weakened trees from greening disease.”

Though he predicts tough years ahead, Mahan is optimistic about the long term. He points to recent advances in genetically-modified trees that are resistant to greening, which Mahan hopes could leave his industry ripe for a rebound.