Hurricane Ian causes estimated $1 billion in agricultural-production losses

Hurricane Ian caused an estimated $1 billion in agricultural-production losses, with the biggest hits to the citrus industry, along with growers of vegetables and melons, according to a new University of Florida report.

The report from the UF-Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences estimated overall production losses at $1.03 billion, including $247.1 million for citrus growers, $204.6 million for vegetable and melon growers and $195.4 million for the nursery and greenhouse industry.

"I think the main takeaway is that there was a significant production loss," said Christa Court, the director of the UF-IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program. "These are estimates that some of these crops are not at their final harvest stage. And so it might remain to be seen what actually happens when they get to that final harvest, how close these estimates are and were some of the producers — that were maybe very early in their planting season — able to replant or able to delay their planting and get some of that in the ground."

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The report did not include damage to such things as buildings and equipment, which would increase the economic effects of the Category 4 storm that swept across the state in late September. The citrus estimate does not include such things as downed trees, Court said.

"We do know how many trees are out there, but telling us exactly what happened to them, there aren't as many survey responses in the survey that we send out to let us know the percentage or the number of trees that were destroyed," said Court.

The Department of Citrus anticipates requesting federal aid between $387 million and $635 million, including trying to recoup money related to lost trees. Overall, recovering hundreds of millions of dollars lost will take time.

"We've seen them bounce back from events like this. I just mentioned that Hurricane Irma was very similar, and they were able to bounce back from that," said Court. "I believe that it typically takes a grove about two or three years — from hearing people comment on what happened from Hurricane Irma — to get back to what they were before the storm."

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The UF report estimated that field and row crops sustained $130.2 million in production losses from Ian. Growers of non-citrus fruits took a $137.7 million hit, and losses of livestock and animal products were about $120 million. What happens now is figuring out ways to make Florida’s agriculture industry more resilient to the next storm.

"Whether or not individual growers are doing things, that's an individual decision," Court said, about growers taking measures to build up their own resiliency. "But I can tell you that we're working with policymakers and with industry associations to try to contribute information and insights that will help improve the resilience of agriculture in the state of Florida to events like this."

Florida faces the smallest orange harvest since the 1935-1936 season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released a revised forecast, which was 11% below an estimate released in January. A couple of weeks after Ian made landfall, the UF institute initially estimated industry losses at $786.6 million to $1.56 billion, with citrus losses between $146.9 million to $304.3 million.

The new report said estimated production losses topped $100 million in Hillsborough and Manatee counties and were between $50 million and $100 million in Polk, Hardee, DeSoto, Highlands, Hendry and Palm Beach counties.

In 2017, Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Florida Keys and moved up the state, inflicted an estimated $2.5 billion in agricultural losses, including $761 million in the citrus industry.

Court said it is difficult to compare the two storms, as university researchers changed the assessment process and Irma affected all but two counties in Florida.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.