After Hurricane Irma passed through Florida, vegetable farming specialist Gene McAvoy set out to assess land damage. McAvoy works out of LaBelle, Florida — a town known for its many vegetable and citrus farms — which took a direct hit from the storm. As a result of damaged crops, consumers can expect higher price tags on grocery store produce.
Before Irma hit, it was almost time to harvest Florida's oranges and grapefruits, but after the hurricane pushed through, it left 50 or 60 percent of the fruit lying in the water and on the ground, according to NPR. Luckily for vegetable farms, Irma arrived before most fields were planted. Only 10 percent of fields had been sown, but those that were planted were a total loss.
Much of the country’s sugar comes from fields just east of LaBelle. Post-Irma, McAvoy finds most of the product to have been uprooted. “We won’t know the exact extent of the loss until it’s harvested,” he told NPR, adding, “It’s probably the worst hurricane that we’ve seen.”
Phil Lempert, also known as the "Supermarket Guru," says fruit and vegetable prices are on the "way up up up."
"In Florida, they already had lost an estimated 40 percent of citrus crops — oranges, lemons, grapefruits, limes — due to citrus greening and because of the uncertainty of immigrant labor they are struggling to pick what fruit they did have," Lempert told The Daily Meal. "Look for much more citrus to come from Brazil and at higher prices."
In addition to the massive loss of produce, farm workers are taking a blow, too. According to Lourdes Villanueva, whose employer provides services for migrant farmers in the state, many of these workers are now homeless because the hurricane destroyed their homes. “The ones where the roof didn’t go, trees fell on them,” she told NPR. “It’s just not a good day in Florida today.”
While Irma’s effects on Florida’s agriculture and economy have yet to be fully calculated, and shortfalls from the state’s farms are bad news for health-conscious consumers — citrus fruits are among the most nutritious foods you can eat.