HURRICANE IRMA has caused widespread devastation throughout Florida’s farming industry, leading to what their farm bureau are calling “an agricultural disaster that will cost farmers and ranchers billions”.

The category five hurricane wreaked havoc across parts of the Caribbean early in September, battering a number of islands, reducing buildings to rubble, before making its way north-west to Florida.

Farmers in Florida are now coping with widespread destruction of crops, buildings, fencing and properties lost to wind and water damage, as well as significant failures in the electric power grid. The entire peninsula suffered major damage but Southwest Florida was hit the hardest, with estimates in the primary citrus belt of losing 60% of their green fruit and those farmers who had already planted vegetables for the new season reporting a near-total loss.

Standing water is adding to problems facing arable and livestock producers throughout the Florida peninsula. Flooding has blocked access to fields and groves and limited access to beef cattle in fields marooned by the storm. In east Florida’s Brevard County, an estimated 50,000 acres of ranch land is under water, likely imposing a weight loss in calves shipped for processing.

Informal estimates suggest that the total agricultural cost of the storm will be in the billions. GB Crawford of the Florida Farm Bureau expressed his concerns over the extensive damage to Florida’s agricultural sector: “Our farm families are busy with the process of recovery and restoration, but that process will take weeks, months, and in some cases, years. There are no official reports on the overall destruction yet available, but the early estimates and anecdotal information that we have place the farm losses in the billions of dollars.

"Citrus growers tell us that 60 to 70% of the fruit was blown off the trees. Only 10% of Florida’s fall vegetable crop was in the ground, but those plants that were in production, including tomatoes, were a total loss," said Mr Crawford. "Many cattle ranchers tell us that they cannot gather and care for their animals because flooding has simply isolated portions of their properties.”

Despite the widespread destruction, the resiliency of Florida’s farmers and ranchers has been on full display in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Farmers have been working hard repairing buildings, machinery and replanting crops, beginning the long process of restoration in the country’s agriculture sector.

Mr Crawford commended the efforts of farmers to remain positive despite the challenges facing them: “Our farm families are just outstanding independent producers. They work hard, they help themselves, they help each other. I have no doubt that they will recondition Florida agriculture so that they will be producing food and fibre for Florida, for the nation and the world.”