Impact of Hurricanes on Vegetable Crops in South Florida

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  • 1 1University of Florida, Southwest Florida Research & Education Center, Immokalee, FL, 34142
  • 2 2University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department
  • 3 3University of Florida, Hendry County Extension
  • 4 4University of Florida, Palm Beach County Extension
  • 5 5University of Florida, Miami–Dade County Extension

Vegetable producers in south Florida suffered the effects of four major hurricanes during 2004 and two during 2005, causing damage to crops and farms estimated at well over 1 billion dollars each year. Producers were quick to respond by replanting or nursing damaged crops back to health. Green beans and leafy crops appeared least likely to recover or produce acceptable yields after exposure to high winds and driving rains. Young tomato plants up to the second or third string were at times completely stripped of leaf material, yet recovered surprisingly quickly. A replant study showed no benefit in replanting compared to keeping damaged plants in the field. Older tomato plants were marginal in their ability to recover with 10% to 60% reductions in yield for first and second harvests when compared to yields common in the region. As much as 100% of Palm Beach County's 2005 early fall bell pepper planting was destroyed by storms. Other peppers in the region were affected by flooding and subsequent development of root diseases such as phytophthora. Damaged eggplant recovered slowly. Research plantings located in commercial fields and at Research and Education Centers were devastated. In addition to loss of crops, costs to vegetable growers included labor to remove damaged plastic and reset stakes, installation of replacement plastic mulches, replanting, and structural damage to buildings and packing facilities. Some transplant houses and greenhouses for specialty peppers were completely destroyed. Removing plastic coverings before a storm's arrival saved structures and crops. Transplants of all crops were in short supply. Labor was lacking due to reconstruction efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Successful and not-so-successful recovery efforts will be shown.

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