(Sept. 7) VERO BEACH, Fla. — Citrus growers on Florida’s south-central East Coast were literally wading through damage Sept. 7 caused by heavy flooding in association with Hurricane Frances.

According to early reports, Florida’s vegetable growers in the Homestead and Belle Glade areas escaped serious damage from the storm.

“We had wind gusts of 50 mph Saturday (Sept. 4) and a few broken limbs on avocados,” said Craig Wheeling, chief executive officer of Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead. “We’ll probably have lower packouts due to fruit scars, and we could have some more fruit drop. We won’t know for two to three weeks.”

Because of poor communications, initial reports on citrus damage were difficult to assess, according to Casey Pace of Florida Citrus Mutual, but estimates are running high.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Bronson said some growers in the area were reporting as much as 90% of fruit on the ground and said some groves were in a foot or more of water.

Bronson said there was particular concern about Florida’s grapefruit industry, which represents about 75% of the U.S. production. Two of the hardest hit counties were St. Lucie and Indian River, which account for 70% of the state’s 105,000 acres of grapefruit production.

About 40% of Florida’s grapefruit production and about 5% of its oranges go to the fresh market.

Frances came ashore Sept. 4 near Fort Pierce, Fla., with winds in excess of 115 mph just three weeks after Charley struck the state’s southwestern coast, moved inland and destroyed an estimated 20% of the state’s citrus crop.

Between the two hurricanes, more than 500,000 acres of citrus groves have been hit by damaging winds and rain, according to Florida Citrus Mutual.
Burton Ashton, general manager of vegetables in Belle Glade for A. Duda & Sons Inc., Oviedo, said planting of the company’s celery crop would be delayed about a week because of rain associated with Frances.

Tomato growers on Florida’s central West Coast reported damage to plants following rainfall in excess of 6 inches, but the growing area south of the Manatee River was in good shape.

President Bush said he would seek additional federal funding to help residents rebound from the devastation of Frances but the extent of the aid was not determined Sept. 7.

To provide immediate aid to Florida’s citrus industry following Charley, Bush directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compensate citrus and vegetable growers with existing budget funds for lost crops and trees and ordered other agencies to help with the housing needs of migrant workers.

Citrus growers hit hard by Frances
Damaged trees and fruit on the ground were a common sight at Sun Ag Inc., Fellsmere, Fla., in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances.