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Dade agriculture hit hard by hurricane

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Nurseries and fruit growers were hit hardest by Hurricane Andrew, but the vegetable farming industry escaped heavy damage, agriculture officials said Tuesday.

David Holmes, Dade County extention director at the Homestead Agricultural Center, said nurseries sustained a 90 to 95 percent loss.

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The damage was obvious just by driving through the area. At one nursery, all that was standing was a lone hibiscus plant.

Holmes estimated the fruit crop suffered an 85 percent loss. Limes, mangoes and avacados were the hardest hit.

He said all five of his agents were out inspecting fields and talking to growers Tuesday. The Dade County agriculture industry is estimated at $509 million, including fruit and vegetables growing along with nurseries.

Holmes said the winter vegetable production would be close to normal this year.

'Normally, vegetables would be being planted right now. But farmers I've talked to are all planting within the next two weeks,' Holmes said.

He said the reason for the delay is that there is still a lot of debris left in the fields.

He said there are 800 vegetable farms in south Dade County, counting the small operations, but most of the industry is comprised of 500 farms that employ 23,000 people.

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Most farmers predict they will have to lay some people off, but that may not be a serious problem for farmworkers.

'I had one farmer tell me of his 12-man crew, eight said they were leaving to work in construction. They figured they could make better money,' Holmes said.

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