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Hurricane Irma update: Lauren Butler, UF/IFAS Extension Okeechobee County – Sept. 18

Replanting, rebuilding, remarkable Florida agriculture

Hurricane Irma made landfall onto Florida’s coasts on September 10, 2017. As she charged her way up the state, Irma left a path of destruction and chaos behind for Florida residents, and Florida agriculture.

It may be a few more weeks before life returns to normal for the majority of Floridians, but for those residents whose livelihood depends on their agricultural businesses, it will take a little longer.

Ok…..a lot longer. Besides the initial expenses of fixing roofs, removing flood water, and picking up debris, they will have to replant, rebuild, and continue to invest into agricultural operations. With the increase of investment, many agribusinesses face the real likelihood of operating at a loss for months, and possibly even years.

This is not a new challenge for Florida Agriculture. It’s the nature of the business. It’s not an easy career, but so many farmers, ranchers and producers take tremendous pride in the fact that they provide food, fiber and shelter for others.

Flint Johns, ranch manager for Lykes Bros. Inc. sees the challenges Florida agriculture is facing, but he knows the will of the Florida farmer, producer and rancher is stronger than the winds of any hurricane.

“They [Floridians] settled the wilderness of South Florida at the turn of the 20th Century, survived and thrived through countless subtropical and tropical diseases, and weathered many a hurricane,” Johns said. “Hurricane Irma will not break the will of the Florida agriculturalists, which has been forged over the last century and handed down over four or five generations.”

The effects from the devastation left by Irma will take years for some farms and ranches to reverse. Sugarcane that has been leveled will take at least a year to replant and earn growers profit from a harvest. Flooded cabbage and corn fields will take months to drain and re-establish. Sod farms also have to drain their fields so their crop will grow. Citrus producers lost more than half their fruit harvest for the year. Their trees are also facing tremendous hardships as roots are flooded and damaged. In some cases, entire trees were lost.

Livestock owners have a totally different battle of keeping their animals alive and healthy. Ranchers will begin to supplement their cattle, incurring an extra expense for feed due to their pastures and grasslands being flooded. Dairy farmers face the constant challenge of running generators 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to milk and cool cattle. Poultry farms have the similar difficulties of keeping their flocks fed and cool in the Florida heat.

Stephanie Pelaez, a third generation cattle rancher in Okeechobee, said the tremendous bond she has witnessed between agriculturalists of all commodities has been amazing to see.

“It’s a humbling experience to know that our industry pulls together in these situations and supports one another,” Pelaez said.

Irma packed-a-punch, but Florida agriculture is resilient. Florida agriculture will rise to the challenge. Florida agriculture will rebuild and they will replant because they are remarkable.

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