Florida agriculture takes $1.56 billion hit

Downed Florida fruit trees in Hurricane Ian's aftermath.
Downed Florida fruit trees in Hurricane Ian's aftermath. (Courtesy UF/IFAS)
Courtesy UF/IFAS

The aftermath of Hurricane Ian still lingers throughout the state of Florida. 

University of Florida economists predict a potential loss of the combination of seasonal crops, livestock, nursery, and aquaculture products valued between $787 million and $1.56 billion.  

The estimate for production losses or expected revenue changes is until the end of the current calendar year.  

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“Even though the coast – an area with comparatively less agricultural production than inland areas – bore some of the worst impacts of the storm, the strong winds and heavy rains battered a wide swath of the peninsula that includes over 5 million acres of agricultural land,” said Christa Court, director of the program and assistant professor in the UF/IFAS food and resource economics department, in a release.  

The UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program conducts assessments after a disturbance to the standard operations of Florida’s agriculture industry—usually natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and freezes.  

In 2016, Court and her colleagues collected baseline data for agricultural losses and damages from tropical cyclone events. Since then, the program has improved its baseline and impact databases.  

Even with this comparison data, analyzing Hurricane Ian’s impact is complicated.  

Hurricane Ian made landfall not far from where 2017’s Hurricane Irma hit, but instead of moving north through the entire peninsula, Ian cut across toward the East Coast. Ian was a more powerful storm with winds ranging between 74 and 156 miles per hour that ravaged nearly1.2 million acres of agricultural land.  

The UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program used data from multiple sources in addition to its previous post-storm assessments that included the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ‘s United States Census of Agriculture, Ask IFAS, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

According to a UF/IFAS press release, once the researchers determined the impacted agricultural acreages, the team used a five-year average for value per acre of each commodity group to estimate the “at-risk” production value of affected acres.  

The total value of the croplands that saw the tropical storm or hurricane conditions topped $8.1 billion of production on the affected land.  

Researchers collected visual assessments to indicate possible more significant impacts. Among their predictions:  

  • Citrus crops are expected to sustain significant production losses ($147 million to $304 million), depending on the level of fruit drop, damage to branches, and impacts due to heavy precipitation and flooding. 
  • Vegetables and melons are expected to sustain significant production losses ($208 million to $394 million), with impacts heavily dependent on the ability (or inability) to replant damaged or destroyed crops. 
  • Livestock operations (beef and dairy cattle, horses, apiculture, etc.) and producers of animal products (milk, eggs, honey) are expected to suffer losses ($113 million to $222 million) due to damaged fencing, power outages, and flooding.  

“I think based on the information we have, the hardest hit agricultural segments statewide include citrus crops, vegetables, melons, and other acreages that were significantly impacted, such as animals and animal products, dairy farms, cattle ranches, and APA culture operations,” said Court in a virtual press conference.  

Since the team is in the initial stages of the data collection, Court used Hurricane Irma data to speak on the possible impacts land damage can have on cattle.  

“There was reduced nutritional value on the grazing land,” said Court. “We already know standing in flood water is never good for the cattle since they can get injuries or diseases.” 

The team’s estimated timeframe for county-level information is mid-November.  

Court noted that it matters a lot for them to gather more information from the field at the local level to be more confident in the estimates. It isn’t reliable to assume what happened at the state level mirrors the county level.  

“We don’t have information at the county level to say which of those were hardest hit in a particular county because those effects can be very different even within a localized area. We’d like to wait until we get more information from the field,” said Court. 

The program will release a full report once analyses are completed. 

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