US: Concerns about impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida cane

Published: 09/07/2017, 11:52:19 AM

Florida's crops, especially citrus and sugar cane, could be damaged by Hurricane Irma, a forecast service said Wednesday, according to Florida's Palm Beach Post newspaper.

"The exact track of the storm will be a major determining factor on the extent of the crop damage," said Don Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist for MDA Weather Services. "A storm track right over the center of the Florida peninsula would likely result in significant damage to citrus trees and sugar cane plants."

A track keeping the eye of the storm, and its most powerful winds and rainsjust to the east of Florida would lower damage potential for Florida crops, but would increase threats to cotton, corn and soybean crops in the Carolinas.

Hurricane Irma, currently in the eastern Caribbean, has become one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history. The storm is forecast to pass just north of Puerto Rico Wednesday night, and be just north of Cuba by Saturday.

Most forecast models then show the storm making a turn to the north and passing either right over the center of Florida, the state's agricultural hub, or just off its east coast.

Either of these tracks would result in some damage to Florida crops, MDA Weather Services said.

Palm Beach County is Florida's largest producer of sugar cane. In the 2016/17 season, Florida produced more than 2 million tons of sugar, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp. which grows sugar cane in western Palm Beach County, and also produces orange juice, is taking all precautions to ensure the safety of its people, property and equipment, spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said Wednesday.

"Farmers are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. You prepare and you pray. Right now, the people of the Glades are praying long and hard for everyone potentially in harm's way," Sanchez said.

"Our farmers are drawing down water levels in farm canals and securing equipment and buildings. Our railroad is securing railcars and equipment. Our sugar factory, citrus processing plant and water treatment plant are securing facilities and equipment," Sanchez said.

The company is also preparing for post-storm assessment, clean-up and restoration of operations.

The 2017/18 sugar cane harvest is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. Citrus harvesting is expected to start in mid-December.