Although Hurricane Michael caused major damage to crops in the Florida Panhandle, the central and southern parts of Florida, where the vast majority of the state’s fall produce is grown, were not directly affected by the storm, and growers there anticipated a bountiful fall harvest, barring weather disruptions.
That’s not to say the hurricane that hit in early October will have no effect on the Florida market.
“I would anticipate there are going to be some gaps,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Maitland-based Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, beans, cucumbers, eggplant and corn are grown in the Panhandle, but the tomato market is likely to be the most affected.
“Tomatoes in the Quincy/Tallahassee area of Florida that are grown for this time of the year got hit pretty hard by the storm,” said Bob Spencer, president of West Coast Tomato LLC, Palmetto, Fla.
“When something like that happens, it creates a rebounding effect in the market, and it appears to be that way this morning,” he said Oct 15.
Any shortages likely will gradually dissipate as other regions start harvesting, such as Palmetto/Ruskin and more southerly growing areas, Lochridge said.
Florida’s citrus volume will be up in all categories — oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos — according to an October report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Statistics Board.
Florida growers are expected to produce 79 million boxes of oranges, up 76% from last year; 6.7 million boxes of grapefruit, up 73%; and 1.2 million boxes of tangerines and tangelos, up 60%.
GT Parris, Florida citrus commodity manager for Greenyard USA/Seald Sweet, Vero Beach, Fla., said Seald Sweet and the industry are looking for a rebound after last year’s “disaster” caused by Hurricane Irma.
“We feel that we can improve on quality and hopefully put a good taste for Florida citrus back in the consumers’ hands,” he said.
Florida strawberries also were progressing nicely.
Early plants were blooming in mid-October, and some berries might pop up by early November, said Sue Harrell, marketing director for the Dover-based Florida Strawberry Growers Association Inc.
The state has about 10,000 acres, Harrell estimated in late October, and she said more organic acreage has been added this year.
“We’re projecting a good crop out of Florida,” said Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc.
Picking for Well-Pict should start in late November or early December, he said.
On the tropical fruit scene, Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., had started its harvest by mid-October, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing.
The company grows avocados, star fruit, guava, passion fruit and dragon fruit in Florida with greater availability through December or January and lighter supplies into March and April.
This year has been “great” in terms of quality and volume of most items, she said.
Growers also were optimistic about the vegetable crops.
“The quality will be excellent out of our fields this season, and we will have nice size as well,” said Stephen Madonia, director of operations for Chapman Fruit Co. Inc., Wauchula, Fla.
Chapman Fruit started harvesting eggplant and squash the third week of October and planned to begin its bell pepper harvest Nov. 1, its normal start time, he said.
“The growing conditions have been warm, and we would like to see a few cool days ahead,” Madonia said.
“But in general, all the farms look great, and soon we will be in full swing.”
Some growers reportedly experienced a light set on their plants because of rains during the beginning of the season in August, and then it turned hotter than normal, he said, which reduced some yields of early plantings.
Although Chapman’s acreage remained steady, Madonia said he believed other operations may be down this fall.
“We will have to see how that plays out,” he said.