Farmers, growers and ranchers are tallying their losses after Hurricane Irma blew through Manatee County last week.
Some losses may be covered by crop insurance, but farmers also might have to borrow money to keep their operations going.
The federal Farm Service Agency is authorizing emergency procedures on a case-by-case basis to assist borrowers, livestock owners, contract growers and other producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced.
Farmers and ranchers are urged to keep records of losses, including livestock deaths, as well as expenses for feed purchases and other extraordinary costs because of lost supplies or increased transportation costs.
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“We had a pretty good orange crop this year,” said Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms, but he estimates that Irma blew 10 percent of the fruit off citrus trees at Lakewood Ranch.
Fruit drop could increase as orange trees, which were violently shaken by ferocious storm winds, fight for survival from the beating they received.
Citrus producers in other parts of the state reported even greater losses.
“Highlands County really caught the devil,” Bradshaw said.
Andrew Meadows, spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, said Hurricane Irma cut through the heart of the Florida citrus belt.
Although evidence is anecdotal, indications are that 50 percent of the citrus crop has been lost, but losses could reach 75 percent in some areas, Meadows said.
Our workers are filtering back after the storm. We are using truck drivers, mechanics and anyone else to help in the recovery.
Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms
After suffering through a siege of citrus greening and canker, Irma feels like “a gut punch,” Meadows said.
SMR Farms reported heavy damage in its nursery area, affecting seedlings as well as large trees in pots.
“Our workers are filtering back after the storm. We are using truck drivers, mechanics and anyone else to help in the recovery. We’re up to the challenge,” Bradshaw said.
Gary Reeder, president of the Manatee County Farm Bureau, said his tomato crop on 350 acres near Duette took a major hit from Irma, including “no power, no water,” in the days after the storm.
Bob Spencer, president of West Coast Tomato, reported “fairly extensive damage to the farms.”
It will take a few weeks to get back on track and there may no longer be the prospect of an anticipated bumper crop, Spencer said.
In addition to its tomato farms in Manatee County, West Coast also has fields in Immokalee in Collier County. Recovery will take longer in Immokalee, where flooding was widespread near where Irma came ashore.
“Before we can plant, we have to wait for the fields to dry out,” Spencer said. “The damage is repairable. It’s the game we play.”
At Jones Potato Farm in Parrish, Leslie and Alan Jones were taking a deep breath after Irma moved through the area.
“We don’t have anything planted right now so we were quite fortunate. Just very wet in the fields we are preparing,” Leslie Jones said in an email.