The Senate Agriculture Committee held a meeting on Oct. 12 to discuss damage from Hurricane Irma. Irma hit Florida in the beginning of September, just as many vegetable and specialty crop growers were preparing their fields to plant. The meeting featured two sets of panels in which growers gave testimonies about their damage after the storm.
One of the panelists represented the Florida strawberry industry. Al Herndon, manager at Ferris Farms in Floral City, described the damage on his strawberry farm.
According to Herndon, Ferris Farms is a medium-sized strawberry farm with about 84 acres of strawberries. Herndon told the committee his farm was fortunate since planting had not taken place prior to the storm.
However, Herndon said the farm had just finished preparing beds and laying plastic before Irma hit, so those beds were at risk in the storm. After assessing the post-Irma damage, Herndon said in his testimony, “Thirty-four acres of beds and plastic were virtually destroyed.” He added that most of the farm’s strawberries are grown on the side of a hill, where the wind blew the plastic off, and then the rain eroded the beds.
After the storm, Herndon said his workers gathered the plastic that had been blown off the beds in the field. This process was incredibly time consuming since it had to be done by hand with shovels. According to Herndon, the plastic cannot be pulled out of the soil with a tractor because it will just split the plastic in two. “That (digging out the plastic) took about every day, 12 hours a day, for a week and a half to two weeks,” he said.
After the workers got the field cleaned up, Herndon said they quickly rebuilt the beds and laid the plastic back down. Luckily, they were able to rebuild before the time for planting. However, they realized that the beds would not be fumigated.
“All of our beds are fumigated to take care of soil-borne pathogens and try to help with weed control,” Herndon explained. He said that they could not refumigate because there was not enough fumigation material available. So, they wound up planting on non-fumigated soil, which will affect strawberry yields at harvest time. Fortunately, Ferris Farms is expected to harvest on time despite Hurricane Irma.
Herndon concluded his comments by telling the committee about his expenses to rebuild after Irma. He said the cost for new plastic, new drip tape and labor added up to a big bill. “It’s going to take quite a bit of cash flow to get us out of this situation,” Herndon said.
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