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Vegetable Farmers Talk Hurricane Irma Damage One Year Later

It’s been almost a year since Hurricane Irma and there’s still damage — all farmers were hit hard.

“We actually just got our roof back on within about two months ago,” Robert McMahon, owner of Southern Fresh Farms, said.

Some were hit worse than others.

’It really did require a six week start over after the damage of our main lettuce crop,” Christine Lindsey, Vice President of Pine Island Botanicals, said.

The Lee County Farm Service Agency said citrus, clam beds, and nurseries are still hurting from the hurricane.

But what about row crops?

Fruits and vegetables alone lost $180 million in Florida’s agriculture production because of Hurricane Irma.

“We still had about 5,000 acres of tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, eggplants had been planted and were completely destroyed. 100 percent,” Gene McAvoy said, who is the regional vegetable extension agent at the University of Florida.

The hurricane hit when fruits and vegetables were starting to grow.

“It’s tough to get a late storm — especially in the farming industry,” McMahon said. “Especially after you get things in the ground.”

The plastic covering the ground was ripped up, which is expensive to repair.

“So we had 15,000 acres times $2500,” McAvoy said, “and that was also completely lost.”

That’s $37.5 million.

“It costs about $10,000 to grow an acre of tomatoes these days,” McAvoy said. “And another $5,000 to harvest those acres of tomatoes.”

But for small farms, the story is different. Pine Island Botanicals had to replace plastic on their roofs. Overall damage wasn’t bad for them.

“We were really lucky, that’s what I have to say,” Lindsey said. “As a small farmer, we diversified. We’re trying to grow everything that either takes us a week or we have fruit trees.”

But, it can still hurt.

“You have limited resources as far as help and labor, it takes you some time to recoup from a lot of damage,” McMahon said.

The federal government approved $2.3 billion to help agriculture in Florida after Hurricane Irma, and farmers can still apply for disaster assistance programs by going to the Florida Farm Service Agency’s website.

Reporting by Anna Kohls