Florida Hurricanes

For Hurricane Irma updates visit the Florida Citrus Newsroom.

Florida Citrus growers have faced numerous challenges in the past. The 1940s were particularly devastating to the industry, with destructive hurricanes in 1944 and 1949. The most severe impact in recent history came during the 2004-05 season, in which citrus-producing regions of the state were hit by four hurricanes within a six-week period in 2004, three of which were direct hits. Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne caused both rain and wind damage, while Hurricane Ivan added to existing flooding of the Indian River area. Standing water is damaging to the root system of the trees and can cause additional problems such as predisposing the trees to soil-borne diseases and contributing to the leaching of nutrients crucial to the plants’ recovery.

The effects of the storms were costly to the growers and to consumers. As expected with the law of supply and demand, reduced production led to temporary price increases. Despite the hardship, the industry has continually recovered from these setbacks and challenges.

“We have a resilience as Florida Citrus Growers and I don’t know [what] causes us to have that resilience besides it’s just our character and it’s just who we are. But, we are not people that give up. We’re not in it to make a big dollar. We’re in it because we love it. And we truly get a reward out of what we harvest. And, to experience that is just an amazing deal,” said John Barben, Florida Citrus grower and vice president of Barben Fruit Company Inc. and Robert J. Barben Inc.

More information about the hurricanes in 2004-05 can be found here.

Hurricane Challenges

As one would expect, the number one threat a hurricane poses to Florida Citrus groves is wind that can strip the fruit from the trees, rendering it unusable. There are many other implications, both immediate and long-term, that come with the damaging wind and rain of a hurricane that may not be top-of-mind.

In addition to fruit loss, other damage to the trees themselves can have great long-term impact on the production of the groves. From root damage due to standing water, to leaf and limb loss due to wind, to salinity of the soil due to high volumes of salt water coming in with high tides, the trees can sustain various types of damage in the event of a strong storm.

Hurricanes, especially sequential hurricanes, have the potential to saturate the ground and overwhelm the drainage systems, leading to flooding and standing water. Standing water is damaging to the root system of the trees as it creates anaerobic conditions and can cause additional problems such as predisposing the trees to soil-borne diseases and contributing to the leaching of nutrients crucial to the plants’ recovery. Saturated soil can lead young trees to blow over as well, requiring replanting.

As trees lose mature leaves, the impact to the trees’ health can vary depending on how quickly the tree regenerates replacement foliage needed to provide photosynthesis necessary to support fruit development. The following shows the fruit and leaf loss that can be expected with various wind speeds:

Saffir-Simpson hurricane storm rating scale.1

Category Wind (mph) Expected Damage to Citrus Trees and Fruit
1 74–95 Some loss of leaves and fruit, heaviest in exposed areas
2 96–110 Considerable loss of leaves and fruit with some trees blown over
3 111–130 Heavy loss of foliage and fruit, many trees blown over
4 131–155 Trees stripped of all foliage and fruit, many trees blown over and away from property
5 over 155 Damage would be almost indescribable, groves and orchards completely destroyed

In addition to the devastation to the trees and crop, widespread disturbance of operations and infrastructure due to damaged grove equipment, buildings, as well as computers and servers can be extremely disruptive to the business of the citrus industry as well. All repairs take time and come with a high financial burden.

While hurricanes have the potential to cause devastation, growers can plan to both prepare for such storms and recover from them. The University of Florida IFAS Extension advises growers take steps to protect the people, equipment and supplies needed for recovery.1 Suggestions for preparedness include keeping all liquid tanks full to lessen the potential for movement in the storm, keeping ditches clear to facilitate water removal, keeping trees pruned and free of broken limbs, keeping emergency equipment like generators and chain saws on hand, and ensuring radios and other communications devices are in good working order. From a recovery perspective, once it is safe to assess the property, growers can inspect the damage to the trees, work to clear debris, repair the irrigation system and remove excess water, reset toppled trees to an upright position, and fertilize the trees to increase their chances of recovery.

References

  1. This document is a Fact sheet HS-804, Department of Horticultural Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published April 2001. Revised June 2017. Please visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.