Hurricane Ian Wreaked Havoc on Florida’s Crops: Here’s What Happened

by Suzanne Halliburton
Pauln Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Image

The winds and rain of Hurricane Ian tore through homes and businesses in Florida late last month. And the system also played havoc with the state’s agriculture.

The latest estimate is that Hurricane Ian sliced through four million acres of lush Florida farmland. The impact probably will be particularly acute on owners of the smaller farms. Federal money can help, but it may take months to receive the check.

“If you don’t have the money to keep going on your own, you’re pretty much stuck,” said Gene McAvoy, an emeritus Hendry County vegetable agent. “The smaller farmers are financially in a more precarious situation. Something like this could break some of them.”

Hendry County is just inland from where Hurricane Ian swept ashore in southwest Florida, Sept. 28. County farms grow citrus, sugarcane and vegetables. The county has 75,000 acres of citrus groves, making it the largest producer in the state. Plus, Hendry is the second largest producer of sugarcane and the third largest in vegetables. County farmers also raise cattle. So Hurricane Ian cut through the area’s biggest business.

Citrus farmers fear that Ian may be worse than Hurricane Irma, which destroyed one third of the crop back in 2017.

Farmers who were in the path of Hurricane Ian had to worry about both their homes and crops. (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Farmers Impacted by Hurricane Ian Eligible for State, Federal Loans

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the the state’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program. It’s available through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for small businesses impacted by Hurricane Ian. DeSantis has indicated that at least $10 million of the $50 million available will go towards farmers.

But McAvoy provided some context for how much more farmers may need. “Ten million dollars is not a lot of money,” he said. “A million dollars in tomatoes is (about) 10 acres.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers other loans for farmers.

Hurricane Ian was particularly bad for citrus farmers, who have thousands of acres of orchards. Once the fruit drops to the ground, it can’t be sold. Ray Royce, who is the director at Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, had bad news.

“It is going to take a while to know the full impact,” Royce said, “but in certain areas we’re seeing 50% of the fruit on the ground already.” Highland County, which is in central Florida, has about 375,000 acres of farmland. About half of it is pasture land. Orchards account for about 25 percent.

But the local residents are helping each other. After Hurricane Ian passed, volunteers gathered at the farms to help with clean up.

Before Hurricane Ian, farmers were beginning to start planting for a new season. But farmers also were harvesting avocados, oranges, grapefruit, carambola, corn, peanuts and sweet potatoes.