Storms take heavy toll on Florida crops, growers assessing fields

While it's months away from hurricane season, growers in South Florida got a stark reminder of what a bad storm can do to a field of vegetables when plants are just a short time from harvest.

From Saturday, Jan. 21, through Monday Jan. 23, rain and high winds gusting as strong as 70 miles per hours tore through South Florida.

"The crop damage was definitely more about the wind than the rain," Joel Silverman, president of Paradise Produce Distributors in Lakeland, FL, told The Produce News Jan. 24. "In fact, it's been so dry that the little rain we got was welcomed."oak Wind damage caused heavy scarring and scratching, along with some broken plants at Oakes Farms.

He said that it was too early to make a good assessment of the total damage because people were just getting into the fields.

"I'm sure we have a lot of plants damaged in one way or another," he said. "It's likely that we'll see some shortages down the road and until the continuation of supply gets back to normal. We have heard from our people further south that there is a lot of pepper damage."

Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers, said the company's South Florida fields took the worst hit over night into the morning of Jan. 22.

"We're just getting into the fields now," he said Jan. 24. "The wind is still kicking up today, but it's supposed to be back to normal by Thursday.

"We know we have bloom drop on peppers, but there's no doubt that all crops were affected," Cullen continued. "Mature squash will definitely have some scarring. The total effects may not show up for about three weeks from now."

Glenn Tindall, a sales representative for Fresh Start Produce Sales in Orlando, said the company's people in the fields in South Florida were reporting that the wind wreaked extensive damage on many crops.

"We had a wind storm about two weeks ago that burned our leaf items, and this one just added to the damage," said Tindall. "We're not sure of the extent of damage yet because we haven't been able to get into the fields everywhere, but we do know that pepper plants are all tangled up in the fields."

Jeremy Lovell of Gary Norman Produce in Belle Glade said the wet part of the storm lasted just a few hours, but the winds before and after were ongoing and relentless.

"Leaf items like Romaine and Boston were hit pretty bad on some farms, but others were spared a lot of damage," said Lovell. "The damage is very spotty and it will take some time for us to assess the full scope."

By the morning of Jan. 24, Steve Veneziano, vice president of Immokalee, FL-based Oakes Farms, said he had walked "every square inch" of the company's Immokalee and Naples fields, and that there is heavy scarring and scratching, along with some broken plants from the wind damage.

"The damage is pretty substantial," said Veneziano. "The pounding wind that lasted through Sunday and Monday was devastating. We had winds as high as 50 miles an hour in our fields."

He added that the effects from the damaged crop would likely be felt for the next 10 to 12 weeks.

"Many of our young plants have suffered damage," said Veneziano. "Some tops of the plants were ripped off, and others turned black because the juice was ripped right out of them. There is also significant scarring on the more mature plants. In Naples, our eggplant and peppers suffered most."

He added that many plants also suffered sun scalding, which occurs when the wind opens the top of the plants exposing it to the strong Florida sun as the storm died down.

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