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The Sunshine Economy

The Sunshine Economy: Agriculture After Irma

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Tom Hudson
A grove of Washingtonia palm trees in Homestead damaged by Irma. The storm did millions of dollars of damage to agriculture in South Florida.

Hurricane Irma dealt a blow to the agriculture industry in South Florida. Local damage estimates are still being calculated, but initial figures put it at around $250 million in Miami-Dade County alone. It’s too early to tell what the price of the storm will be for Palm Beach County farmers. The sugarcane harvest begins this month and crop loss will become more apparent.

The total loss to agriculture across Florida totals $2.6 billion, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Thirty percent of the loss is among the orange groves in Southwest and Central Florida. But the second largest hit from Irma is among nurseries. And then sugar. Those two are concentrated in South Florida with the cane fields in Palm Beach County and hundreds of acres of shade houses and greenhouses in South Miami-Dade County.

 

The storm interrupted the business of farming, but not the inherent optimism making a living from Mother Nature in South Florida requires. We spoke with five farmers with decades of experience about what Irma did to their businesses and the agriculture industry here.

 
The Nurseryman

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Mark Wilson’s shade houses at Greendale Nursery in Homestead were destroyed or heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Mark Wilson, Greendale Nursery, Homestead

• Estimates 80 percent of shade house plants were damaged or destroyed.

• About four acres of shade houses were destroyed and will have to be rebuilt.

• Delayed his semi-retirement for five years because of Irma

The Avocado Grower

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Credit Tom Hudson
Salvador Fernandez with J&C Tropicals stands among the fallen and dead avocados in a grove of trees damaged by Hurricane Irma. One avocado still hangs. Most of his crop was ruined.

Salvador Fernandez, J&C Tropicals, Miami-Dade County

• Estimates he lost at least 80 percent of his late-season avocado crop.

• Cut packing house workforce from more than a dozen workers to six.

• Doesn't know how many avocado trees were damaged or destroyed.

The Sugarcane Farmer

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Rick Roth inspects a portion of his sugarcane fields in Palm Beach County. Hurricane Irma's winds laid down portions of the crop. Harvest will begin this month.

Rick Roth, Roth Farms, Palm Beach County

• Grows 2,500 acres of sugarcane.

• Estimates a 20 percent reduction this year because of Irma.

• Will reduce his sugarcane planting next season and increase it in future years.

The Oak Tree Grower

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Many of John Alger's oak trees suffered severe damage from Hurricane Irma. He has been staking the trees in hopes of saving and straightening them.

John Alger, Alger Farms, Homestead

• Grows 250 acres of palm and oak trees.

• Estimates 85 percent of tree acres suffered some type of damage.

• Figures staking up oak trees adds at least $15 per tree in additional material and labor costs. 

The Palm Tree Grower

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Credit Tom Hudson
Ben Magrill inspects his groves at Pahokee Palms. Many of his small and medium-sized trees were uprooted because of Hurricane Irma.

Ben Magrill, Pahokee Palms, Pahokee

• "Large percentage" of his small and medium-sized trees were blown over.

• Crew of 25 workers has been staking up trees since Irma, hoping to save them.

• Short supply of palm trees because of the size of Irma in Florida.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN.  He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.