Aftermath of Hurricane Irma

Vegetable fields are flooded in Florida, but worse, is lack of labour.

Hurricane Irma’s devastating impact to Florida’s $1 billion produce industry is yet to be calculated while transport logistics are experiencing a major shudder throughout the eastern half of North America. As of September 15, it will still take days for fuel trucks to restock gas stations throughout the sunshine state. Growers and shippers to the integrated North American produce industry felt the jolt immediately. “There was a big ripple to the well-oiled machinery of the industry,” says Jack Streef, Streef Produce. “We have no orders.” The Streef operation at Princeton, Ontario supplies fresh green beans and potatoes to stateside businesses. With no immediate customers in the U.S., product is now diverted to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. “This back-up affects pricing and it will be a week to 10 days before returning to normal,” predicts Streef. In beans alone, the disruption affects two to three plantings. “Rates to take Canadian product down the U.S. southeastern states and Texas have been quite high before the hurricanes hit due to the seasonality,” says Jennifer Morris, Two Roads Logistics, based in Toronto. “That’s typical for this time of year. However I foresee rates staying high due to the demand for support and replenishment.” Due to the earlier crisis of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, southeastern U.S. distribution centers led by Atlanta were shipping product westward to Houston. That diversion meant less capacity for the northeast, which pressured midwest distribution centers in Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. What was first perceived as a regional crisis in Texas and then Florida, has spread far beyond. “There are still widespread outages here in central Florida, but overall we came through fine,” says Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA). In Florida itself, fruit and vegetable damage depends on the crop and timing of planting or harvest. About 50 to 70 per cent of the citrus crop was lost, just prior to the orange harvest. Preparations for tomato and strawberry planting -- such as plastic ground covering and irrigation systems -- fell victim to the category 4 storm. Lochridge predicts that the tomato crop will be light in November, but should recover again for December. Planting for 10,000 acres of strawberries will go ahead in late September. “A big concern for growers is finding available workers to help them in their recovery efforts,” says Lochridge. “The labour supply was already very tight, so this is also an issue they’re dealing with.” As of September 15, there were 1.9 million homes and businesses in Florida without power, disrupting commerce with no access to credit card systems.

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Publish date: 
Friday, September 15, 2017

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