Florida, America’s flaccid penis, stands to lose $1.2 billion in crop production as Hurricane #Irma barrels down on the state. Accounting for nearly 10 percent of growing land in the U.S., Florida is the top grower of tomatoes, oranges, green beans, cucumbers, squash and sugarcane.
Orange juice futures and domestic sugar prices have already spiked this week in response to the threat.
The storm threat has pushed orange-juice futures and domestic-sugar prices higher this week.
For farmers such as Andy McDonald, who grows strawberries near Plant City, Florida, there’s only so much that can be done to prepare for the damage. His fields are ready for planting his winter crop next week. But if punishing rains and overpowering winds tear away the sheeting already laid down over 500 acres that protects the plants from pests in the fall and keeps them warm in the winter, “we won’t have a crop,” he said. The custom-made cover takes months to manufacture, ship, and lay down.
“It’s not something that has a quick turnaround,” said McDonald, 40, who’s the manager of Sweet Life Farms. Multiply his situation by the thousands of farmers in Florida, and Irma “will cripple a lot of communities,” he said.
Irma stands to be the most expensive storm in U.S. history if it devastates Florida farming. As a top producer of winter fruits and vegetables, damage to croplands could send food prices soaring in the weeks, months, and even years to come.
Better now than later
Bloomberg points out that a hurricane in September is less likely to damage immature oranges, for example, than in late October or November when the heavy, ripe fruit is most vulnerable.
Oranges may be able to better withstand winds now than later in the season because they’re not yet full-size, and lighter fruit could be spared from being blown off trees, said Dean Mixon, president of Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton. –Bloomberg
That said, “The vast majority of central and southern Florida fruits and vegetables are vulnerable to losses,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association based in Maitland. “Wind and excessive rain will case major damage.”
When it comes time for the bill, farmers may have to dig into their own pockets to clean up. While a 2014 federal farm bill created a disaster program for livestock farmers, produce farmers rely on a murky federally subsidized crop-insurance program.
About 300,000 of Florida’s 367,500 acres of oranges are insured this year, according to government data. But only about half of the state’s fresh-market tomatoes are covered, and policies tailored to strawberries simply don’t exist outside of California.
Smaller crops simply don’t have the acreage to support policies, and hurricanes, though devastating, are relatively rare and unpredictable, said John-Walt Boatright, spokesman for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation.
Between #Harvey, #Irma, and whatever else is to come – one can only wonder if insurance companies will kick off the next round of federal bailouts sure to come.