Hurricane Dorian is bearing down on Florida and the Southeast coast, posing a serious threat to not only residents and vacationers but also Florida’s agriculture industry, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) chief meteorologist Brad Rippey.
The “storm of surprises,” as Rippey called it because it had not been expected to come near the U.S., now “has a clear path to Florida and a blocking high developing to the north that should help steer the storm directly toward the Florida coast during a holiday week.
At landfall, the hurricane is expected to be a Category 4 with 140mph winds.
Ken Graham, National Hurricane Center director for the National Weather Service, reported Friday that the storm, at a 110 mph movement, is moving northwest at 12 mph, which is slower than it had been moving.
“That’s not our friend, because when you move it slow, that means more time for rain. That’s more time for the on-shore flow to push water in from the coast. That’s also more time to have hurricane force winds,” Graham said.
Tropical storm winds may begin Sunday evening into Sunday night, he added.
Ag industry preparing
Rippey relayed that Florida’s citrus industry is already reeling from past hurricanes as well as citrus greening disease.
The industry could take another blow from Dorian, “especially if it impacts the middle Florida coast as expected as a major hurricane.”
As of right now, USDA said Dorian is headed right for Florida’s major orange and grapefruit production areas.
“The fruits are obviously immature at this point, and it could be a very significant blow for citrus,” Rippey added.
If the storm changes track, it could also affect Florida’s sugarcane crop, he said.
Additionally, as the storm is expected to turn northward after hitting land, Rippey said there could be some concerns with regard to flooding and winds.
“Throughout the Southern Atlantic region and as you move up into the Carolinas, some of those areas were affected heavily last year by Hurricane Florence and the flooding there.”
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences said economists and extension faculty are already preparing to estimate agricultural losses.
“While at this time, the exact strength and landfall location of Dorian are unknown, UF/IFAS Extension agents and specialists are ready and committed to support Florida’s agricultural and natural resources-based industries,” said Saqib Mukhtar, associate dean for agricultural programs with UF/IFAS Extension
He explained that UF/IFAS Extension focuses primarily on gathering loss data for crops and livestock within the state; estimates for forestry and fisheries losses are handled by other government agencies.
UF/IFAS further relayed that crop and livestock production, forestry and fishing in the 21-county region generated more than $4.22 billion in revenues and directly supported more than 63,000 jobs in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available.
Overall, the region includes nearly 750,000 acres in agricultural production, a figure that does not include grazing land, said Christa Court, director of the UF/IFAS Economic Impact Analysis Program. The region also has more than 500,000 head of beef and dairy cattle
“The big categories in the region, in terms of acreage, are citrus, vegetables grown for the fresh market, hay, sod, non-citrus fruit, and nursery and greenhouse crops,” Court said.
She continued, “In terms of dollar value, the region’s biggest industries, in descending order, are fruit farming, including citrus and non-citrus fruits; support activities for agriculture and forestry; production of nursery, greenhouse and floriculture crops; vegetable and melon farming; beef cattle ranching; and dairy cattle and milk production.”