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Citrus trees, peanuts, other Southeast crops face wrath of Hurricane Dorian

By
John Roach & UPI Staff, Accuweather.com
The coming storm has the potential to severely disrupt crops in the Southeast, such as Florida's famous orange industry. File Photo by Hans/Pixabay/UPI
The coming storm has the potential to severely disrupt crops in the Southeast, such as Florida's famous orange industry. File Photo by Hans/Pixabay/UPI

Aug. 30 -- When Hurricane Dorian arrives in the United States, it's expected to have a significant impact on crops throughout the Southeast -- as citrus trees, peanut production and sugar cane crops all could face damages of varying levels.

Estimates for the total damage and economic loss caused by Hurricane Dorian will be $18-20 billion, according to AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers, and that estimate includes crop damages throughout the region.

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"Florida's Indian River citrus area along the east coast may take a direct hit on Monday," said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Jason Nicholls. "Worst-case scenario is the area could get hit with 130-mph winds, so that can cause a lot of damage to the trees."

Winds from strong storms can have devastating and long-lasting effects on tree orchards because they can break limbs, defoliate leaves and fruit or even topple trees, leading to long-term crop losses. In addition to the strong winds, heavy rain can saturate the soil and lead to more tree damage as trees become more susceptible to falling.

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"The main citrus belt from Lakeland, Fla., and south is going to get hit hard, as well, but probably half of the Indian River area," Nicholls said. "They could get hurricane-force wind gusts with heavy downpours of 5 to 6 inches of rain in a short amount of time.

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"If it were October, the damage could conceivably be worse because the fruit gets bigger as we go into the fall, then they start to harvest in December," Nicholls added. "The fruit is relatively small right now - or just forming - so that's a plus, but still there is going to be some damage."

Florida is the leader in orange juice production and second only to Brazil in global orange production. In most seasons, more than 90 percent of America's orange juice is made from Florida, according to the Florida Department of Citrus. The Florida Citrus industry contributes $8.6 billion to the state of Florida and supports 45,000 jobs, according to the Florida Department of Citrus.

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Officials estimated more than 420,000 acres of groves in Florida were damaged by Hurricane Irma, resulting in over $760 million in total losses for Florida citrus, according to Florida Today.

While the wind is the big concern in Florida, the likely heavy rain in Georgia could be problematic because peanut harvesting occurs in September. There is a potential for 10 to 20 inches of rain in south Georgia, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. Georgia is the leading producer of peanuts in the country, with 42 percent of all U.S. peanut production. On Thursday, Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp declared a state of emergency for several state counties.

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"You could have whole fields underwater and that could rot out the peanuts, which are on the ground," Nicholls said. "You don't want the peanuts sitting underwater when they're near harvest."

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While sand in Florida helps alleviate some flooding issues, Georgia's soil is more problematic when dealing with heavy rains, according to AccuWeather Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Evan Myers.

"In Georgia, the soil is mainly clay, and clay doesn't absorb moisture very well," Myers said. "So, if rainfall is of long duration and heavy, tremendous flooding is possible there."

Peanut harvesting is being impacted already this season due to drought, fungal and viral pressures and already some excessive rainfall, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Also at issue are sugar cane crops south of Florida's Lake Okeechobee. "They're on the fringe of the storm, outside of the area of high winds, but they could still get 30- to 40-mph wind gusts that could knock down some sugar cane," Nicholls said.

"We're expecting a general forward slowdown when Dorian gets on land and hooks northward," Nicholls said. "It's going to be in Florida and Georgia for a couple of days, and if it's more than two or three days, the more risk there is of serious flooding problems."

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