Hurricane Ian Lands 'Gut Punch' To Florida Orange Harvest

Things weren't looking too good for Florida's citrus industry, even before Hurricane Ian cut a path Growing Produce says went through the state's citrus belt. Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, before the hurricane, the numbers for Florida's citrus production 2022-2023 were already looking anemic. Production of all oranges was down 32% from the season before. The production of non-valencia oranges and grapefruit were both down 40% from the same period, while the loss to tangerine and tangelo production was seen at 7%, thanks to the impact of disease known as citrus greening, per the Associated Press

The state had hoped to see a bump in orange production for the 2022-2023 season, per the Tampa Bay Times. But that was before Hurricane Ian came along. Now, farmers can only hope that the worst thing they see is fruit drop, which is when a tree sheds unripe or immature fruit, per The Spruce

Even then, farmers are warning that this is just the start, as it will take time for them to work out how badly the storm hurt fruit trees (strong winds and flooding can cause unseen damage, too). As citrus grower Roy Petteway put it to the Associated Press: "For the next six months we'll be evaluating the damage. You're going to have a lot of damage that will rear its head." Petteway believes he may have lost 40% of his crops, while another farmer tells NPR he doesn't think 30% of his trees will recover.

Hurricane Ian's impact went beyond Florida's citrus industry

Florida doesn't just cultivate oranges (most of which the Associated Press says is turned into orange juice). It grows honey, too, and the University of Florida says hundreds of thousands of honey bee colonies were impacted by the storm. In a statement reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Florida Farm Bureau said: "Masses of honeybee colonies submerged in water are in distress. Bee pollination is critical to the livelihood of our state's plants and crops, and is just one example of the long-term effects of this deadly storm." 

Then, there are the heads of cattle, which cannot be accounted for until ranchers repair their fences and round up their herds. Jim Handley, the Florida Cattlemen's Association's executive vice president, estimates that about 42% of the states' cattle population could have been impacted by the storm, per the South Florida Sun Sentinel. All told, Bloomberg says Florida is home to nearly 6,500 fruit and vegetable farms which bring in $20 billion in sales.

Helping the citrus industry isn't going to be cheap. At a Florida Citrus Mutual event, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio estimates that citrus growers alone will need $3 billion in federal funding to get back on their feet. And until Florida's orange growers recover, the U.S. will be leaning on oranges from California and Latin America to get their juice fix, per AP.