Aug 31, 2023
Southeast growers assess Hurricane Idalia damage

Growers throughout the Southeast are assessing potential damage caused by Hurricane Idalia, which rolled through northern and western Florida and southern Georgia in late August.

Initial reports state damage to south Georgia pecan groves and a state farmers market.

The damage assessment was beginning on Aug. 31, the day after the hurricane hit Florida and Georgia, and is expected to be a long task of recovery, according to state agricultural agencies.

Growers throughout the Southeast are assessing potential damage caused by Hurricane Idalia, which rolled through northern and western Florida and southern Georgia in late August. Photo courtesy Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

On Aug. 30, the Category 4 hurricane, which was considered “extremely dangerous,” made landfall on at Keaton Beach in Florida’s Big Bend region on the state’s west coast. After hitting land, the storm weakened to a Category 3 storm. According to the National Hurricane Center, Idalia brought “catastrophic” storm surge and “destructive winds” to Florida and Georgia.

Idalia brought record storm surge to areas of Florida’s west coast, with rains affecting vegetable growing regions from southwest Florida to Palmetto-Ruskin to north and central Florida’s watermelon and blueberry growing regions.

The weather service issued hurricane warnings for parts of Georgia and South Carolina as the storm barreled northeast.

In Georgia, Idalia, which was downgraded to a tropical storm, rolled through the southern and southeast parts of the state, where peaches, blueberries, southern vegetables and other produce is grown.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) reported the Valdosta Farmers Market sustained roof damage with irrigation pivot damage reported in Echols County, in southeast Georgia east of Lake Park, Georgia.

The agency reported pecan tree damage in seven south Georgia counties, including Echols, Pearce, Lowndes, Cook, Wilcox, Irwin and Crisp counties. One farm is reported to have lost 20% of its orchard, according to GDA.

Hurricane Idalia brought heavy rain, high winds and a dangerous storm surge to the Big Bend region of Florida, the less-populated part of the state where the panhandle meets the peninsula, said Christina Morton, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s director of communications. “Based on early reports, we are grateful to hear that our family and friends who were in the impacted communities are safe,” she said Aug. 31. “Though, the storm certainly left its mark.

“Generally speaking, while a limited number of growers saw significant impacts in the Big Bend region, much of the state’s specialty crop growers were spared,” Morton said. “For growers who were able, normal operations resumed today. In fact, the majority of the state’s industry is set to begin planting next week in preparation for harvest in November.”

On Aug. 31, the storm was slowly weakening and making its way across southeast and into the coastal areas of South Carolina and North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service.

Before the hurricane made landfall, the Florida Farm Bureau was preparing its grower members.

“Hurricane Idalia has already impacted areas of the Sunshine State with wind and rain and is expected to make landfall early Wednesday morning,” the organization said in a news release. In preparation for the storm, Florida Farm Bureau created a hurricane resource page, to assist farm families. Resources will continue to be added to the page as they become available.

“Florida Farm Bureau Federation is here and ready to assist our members in recovery from the storm,” Jeb Smith, president, said in the release.

Members are encouraged to follow Florida Farm Bureau’s social media channels for the most up-to-date information.

After the storm, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) provided an update on its efforts to support hurricane response and recover efforts. The department is coordinating with agricultural partners and producers to ensure those impacted have adequate resources and support.

“Hurricane Idalia impacted many rural farms,” FDACS said through social media. “As we move from storm impact to recovery, there are state and federal programs to assist with cleanup.”

The Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement deployed a 20-man search and rescue team to impacted areas while FDACS provided incident management support at the State Emergency Operations Center for planning and logistics operations.

Growers who experience losses and/or damages due to the hurricane are being advised to contact the Farm Service Agency hotline at 877-508-8364 or send an email to the FSA disaster group inbox at FPAC.FSA.FLFSA.Disaster@USDA.GOV. More information is available here.

The Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association was “working diligently with the south GA growers to assess damage and to assess their immediate needs such as generators for irrigation,” according to Beth Oleson, director of food safety and education.

Rural areas of Florida communities dealt with infrastructure damage, and widespread power outages, according to media reports. Storm surge was expected to reach 16 feet in some areas of Florida.

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