LAKELAND, Fla. -- Citrus industry field representatives were assessing the damage to Florida's citrus crops in the wake of a powerful and deadly hurricane that ripped through prime citrus-growing regions in central Florida.
It was too early to quantify the damage, but the state's biggest organization of citrus growers described Hurricane Charley's impact as devastating. Another industry observer noted Charley may have done more damage to citrus groves than any Florida storm in over 40 years.
"Growers in these areas have seen their groves, barns, equipment and homes destroyed," said Andy LaVigne, Florida Citrus Mutual's executive vice president and chief executive officer. "This will certainly have a huge impact on their livelihood and this season's citrus crop."
The central Florida counties that were hit hard by Charley make up more than 280,000, or about 35%, of the state's 800,000 acres of citrus groves, according to Florida Citrus Mutual, the state's largest citrus grower organization with more than 11,000 members. The $9.1 billion Florida citrus industry employs 90,000 people.
Preliminary reports indicated citrus trees had been uprooted and green, unripe fruit had been blown off remaining trees. The fruit would have been harvested next year, said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Citrus, based here.
The last time a storm of such magnitude damaged citrus crops to this degree was in 1960 when Hurricane Donna struck, Meadows said.
"Anecdotally, we've received reports of some significant damage along the path of the hurricane," Meadows said. "We have nothing quantifiable. The more the week passes, the more information we'll get."