Florida's Orange Groves Have Drowned
"We're in desperate need of state and federal assistance," said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Citrus.
Florida's beleaguered citrus fruit growers are reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which hit the state two weeks ago.
"All groves were affected," said Samantha Lane, director of global marketing at the Florida Department of Citrus, a state agency. "You’ll see some trees uprooted, standing water, trees snapped in half, and fruit on the ground." It's a huge loss for growers, who typically invest about $2,000 per acre to get their groves up and running each season.
The state's $8.6 billion citrus industry, which already was struggling against a tree disease for more than a decade, had hoped for signs for a turnaround this season and had estimated a slight increase in production for the first time in years — before the storm hit.
Now, an early estimate from the department put crop loss from the disaster at up to 70%, but the fruits continue to fall from trees prematurely. And, as Irma hit before workers had arrived in Florida for harvesting, there is no labor available to salvage the fallen fruit for oils, essences, and feed. They have been left to rot on the ground.
"We're in desperate need of state and federal assistance to get the groves back and recover from this loss," said Lane.
Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan proposed a bill that would provide tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace damaged trees.
The impact of Irma will be felt on groves for years to come as water-damaged trees die. A new tree takes at least three years to become productive.
The Florida Department of Citrus provided images to BuzzFeed News that were taken from a few groves around the state in the days following Hurricane Irma. While a lot of the water has since receded, the photos are "representative of the damage across the state," said Lane. Here's a look at the widespread devastation.