( File photo )

By Amelia Freidline

In 2018, Florida growers were still grappling with the fallout from 2017’s Hurricane Irma, which caused more than $760 million in damage to the state’s citrus industry. The Southeast was also pummeled by hurricanes Florence and Michael, which caused significant damage to southern sweet potatoes and Georgia’s and Florida’s fall vegetable crops. On the West Coast, an intense heat spell in July nipped California’s avocado crop and sent prices for Golden State lemons above $50 a box.

Oct. 15
Florida ag officials eye hurricane damage
By Tom Karst

University of Florida extension agents and economists are gathering information to develop estimates of crop loss after Hurricane Michael swept through Florida’s Panhandle.

Alan Hodges, director of the University of Florida’s Economic Impact Assessment Program, said in a news release that about 1 million acres of field crops and 3.6 million acres of upland forest in Florida were potentially affected by Hurricane Michael.

Hodges said Oct. 15 that as much as $50 million worth of specialty crops in several Florida counties were affected by Michael, but how much of those crops have been lost to the storm has yet to be determined

Oct. 15
Georgia vegetables suffer near $300 million loss from Michael
By Tom Karst

Preliminary losses to Georgia’s fall vegetable crops from Hurricane Michael have been estimated at $230 to $300 million by agricultural specialists at the University of Georgia.
In a vegetable report authored by Tim Coolong, Andre Da Silva, Bhabesh Dutta, and Greg Fonsah and posted Oct. 12, agricultural officials said that damage to the fall vegetable industry caused by Hurricane Michael was significant for growers in southwest Georgia.

It must be stressed that we are still evaluating fields and some of these numbers may change as we gather more information,” the report said. “Due to the widespread nature of the power outages growers may not have functioning coolers or irrigation pumps, which means that secondary losses due to inability to cool and pack harvested product or to irrigate crops in the fields may climb.”

Oct. 11
Michael takes heavy toll in Georgia
By Tom Karst

Fast-moving Hurricane Michael did substantial damage to Georgia vegetable fall crops, but it is too soon to say how much was lost.

After making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Florida’s Panhandle near Mexico Beach, Fla.,  Oct. 10, Michael later weakened to a tropical storm and swept at an angle across Georgia and into the Carolinas. The storm killed at least six people and caused heavy flooding and property loss near its landfall.

Michael moved out of Georgia about 8 a.m. the morning of Oct. 11, Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.

After entering Georgia from the Florida Panhandle, the storm tracked across Georgia at a northeast bearing, moving from Bainbridge to Cordele and then Warner Robins, Ga., Hall said.
“From our perspective, wind was the big issue, Hall said, noting some growing regions saw 75-mph winds and suffered heavy crop loss.

Near the path of the storm, cucumber, green bean and squash plants were broken by the wind.

Oct. 1
Total N.C. ag loss from Florence more than $1.1 billion
By Tom Karst

Hurricane Florence caused more than $1.1 billion in damage to crops and livestock in North Carolina, according to a new state estimate. Of that, about $27 million is damage to vegetables and horticultural crop losses.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said losses to North Carolina agriculture are expected to be more than $1.1 billion, based on assessments after Hurricane Florence. That number easily tops the $400 million seen after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, according to a news release.

Sept. 24
NC sweet potatoes take hit from Florence
By Tom Karst

Significant damage to North Carolina’s sweet potato crop is anticipated after Hurricane Florence pounded many areas of the state with double-digit rainfall totals.

Prices for North Carolina sweet potatoes jumped $2 to $14-16 per carton on Sept. 19. The market could edge higher again the week of Sept. 24, said Norman Brown, director of sweet potato sales for Raleigh, N.C.-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC.

For Vick Family Farms, sweet potato harvest is expected to resume the week of Sept. 24 after fields begin to dry out, said Charlotte Vick, partner and sales manager for the Wilson, N.C.-based company. Vick Family Farms had harvested about 35% of its crop before the rains came, she said.

She said farms near Wilson, N.C., received about 10-12 inches of rain, and other parts of the state south and east of their location received 30-40 inches of rain. The farm and packinghouse never lost power, she said.

Of the crop still in the field, Vick speculated damage in the Wilson region could range from 25% to 35% of the crop, with growing regions south and east potentially suffering greater damage.

She said she was concerned what the rains will mean for storage quality.

Aug. 20
Growers expect good crop, yields despite late heat
By Tom Karst

Idaho and eastern Oregon onion grower-shippers were off to a very hot start in mid-August.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees, the U.S. Department of Agriculture market news reported that 2018 crop Idaho jumbo yellows in 50-pound sacks sold for mostly $7 on Aug. 10. The USDA said extremely high temperatures, above 105 degrees, were curtailing harvest.

Onion harvest began in early August for some of the early varieties, said Stuart Reitz, Oregon State extension professor and Malheur County Extension agent based in Ontario, Ore.   The late heat won’t spoil the promise of the crop, he said.

Aug. 20
California avocado season closes early, but volume up
By Chris Koger

With a season hampered by heat, wind and fire, California avocado growers have been challenged.

Even with those factors, however, the California Avocado Commission is forecasting a harvest of 300 million pounds this season, almost 40% higher than last season.

“We had originally projected that volume would continue strong through Labor Day (Sept. 3), however, excellent demand, as well as a reduction of the original crop estimate, has created a quicker end to the season,” Jan DeLyser, commission vice president of marketing, said in a news release. “Despite all of the weather-related challenges California avocado growers have endured this season, the revised crop forecast is still 40% percent higher than last year, and we’re committed to providing customers with the support they need.”

The California Avocado Commission’s marketing committee met Aug. 1 to revise the season’s production forecast. Availability should last through August, according to the committee.

Aug. 13
California heatwave lowers crop projection
By Tom Burfield

A heatwave in early July put a crimp in California’s avocado volume, but as temperatures dropped from the 110-degree-plus range and the groves started cooling down, growers seemed pleased with the product they had.

As of the end of July, California growers had shipped about 270 million pounds of avocados, the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission reported.

The total crop for 2017-18 is now projected at about 300 million pounds,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing.

Earlier this year, the projected total for the season was about 375 million pounds.
Last year’s crop was 215 million pounds.

“By mid-August, we will probably have about 20 million pounds to ship,” DeLyser said.

July 30
Lemon prices soar with tight supply
By Tom Karst

The California f.o.b. lemon market soared well over $50 per carton on some packs of California lemons on July 24, and tight conditions are expected to persist for weeks.

Terminal market prices for California lemons were as high as $70 per carton, said Bill Sunderland, sales representative for Los Angeles-based Coast Citrus. With only limited production out of Ventura County, Pro*Act reported in its July 23 outlook report that Southern California lemon growers used the “Act of God” clause in their supply commitments because of the damage caused by the heat. Sunderland said the lemon market will continue strong for the summer season, with most imports supplied in the next few months by Chile.

July 23
Early July heat event scorches avocados
By Tom Karst

Crop loss was reported in California avocado groves after temperatures soared past 115 degrees in growing regions July 6.

Avocado groves in San Diego County’s Pauma Valley and Temecula suffered from the heat, said Bob Lucy, partner with Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

“Everybody’s afraid to really put a number on it because we really don’t know,” he said. “It may have been the worst heat spell that I’ve seen in my years in the industry.”   

Fruit drop associated with the heat is expected to reduce the supply and perhaps increase the price of California avocados marketed in August, though suppliers expect some volume to extend to Labor Day.

The July 6 heat was devastating, said Enrico Ferro, avocado grower in Valley Center, Calif. In 2016, temperatures soared over 115 for two days in June, but this year’s hot spell seemed to cause just as many problems, he said. Some trees have leaves that are burned on the tips.
“I’ve got trees that are definitely going to die,” Ferro said.

Industry leaders say the heat could also ding 2019 avocado production, though by how much is uncertain.

July 23
California heat wave prompts lemon shortage
By Ashley Nickle

High temperatures in California have contributed to a demand-exceeds-supply situation for lemons.

Distributors including Sysco produce division FreshPoint have been using their market reports to advise customers about availability issues expected to persist for months. In a Twitter post, FreshPoint recommended its customers switch to limes when possible.
On July 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b. prices at mostly $41.80-45.80 for cartons of shippers first grade Cal-ifornia lemons sizes 95 and 115. One month earlier, the prices were mostly $28.80-31.80 for 95s and $29.80-32.80 for 115s.

The USDA commented in its latest shipping point trends report that shipments are light and trading is very active.

California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said high heat in the coastal region this month brought on ripening more quickly than usual.   

“There’s been a lot of fruit that’s fallen off the tree,” Nelsen said. 
Typically what we do is we harvest the fruit when it’s green and let it ripen under storage conditions ... The fruit on the tail end of the season, it ripens on the tree, turns yellow, and you’re hoping to get it off before the heat adversely affects it.

“Well, it didn’t happen this year,” Nelsen said.  
Zak Laffite, chief sales officer for Delano, Calif.-based Wonderful Citrus, provided a similar account.

“Where growers had tried to extend the season with tree-ripe fruit, you can see higher signs of fruit drop in the groves,” Laffite said.   

“This could affect the overall lemon supply for the next 12 weeks.”

Glenn Miller, president of Ventura, Calif.-based Saticoy Lemon Association, said the most extreme heat struck July 6. The temperature reached 112 degrees in Santa Paula, Calif., Miller said. Trees in the desert areas are acclimated to that kind of heat, but not trees in the coastal region.

Saticoy Lemon Association had 12% to 14% of the crop still on the tree when the heat event occurred, and most of that fruit was destined for the fresh market. About 20% to 25% of it either dropped to the ground or will be downgraded because of heat-related quality issues, Miller said.