By Clint Thompson
Citrus producers in South Georgia, North Florida and East Alabama are on “pins and needles” this week, according to grower Kim Jones. While the crop is about a month away from harvest, it is extremely vulnerable to Hurricane Ian. Citrus production in all three states is susceptible to the high winds and excessive rainfall the storm is expected to bring.
The strong hurricane is predicted to move through Central Florida on Wednesday and head north to Georgia this weekend.
“It’s very vulnerable right now, honestly. The trees are sagging, they’re so heavy with fruit. Some of it is already touching the ground,” said Jones, who owns a citrus packing facility in Monticello, Florida and is part-owner of a similar facility in Tifton, Georgia. “Trees are tender with all of that fruit pulling it down. Trees are already stressed. If it gets a lot of wind in there, it could really be devastating to it, there’s no doubt about it. But we’ll deal with it when it gets here. If it wipes us out, then it wipes us out.”
Jones said growers are more concerned with potential wind damage associated with the hurricane, though excessive rainfall amounts could be detrimental to production as well.
“A little bit of whip from that wind can remove some fruit, damage some fruit and put the tree in shock. With Hurricane Michael, some of our friends in West Florida took the brunt of that storm. When we ran their fruit through the packing shed, the fruit was just spongy because the tree had been in shock,” Jones said. “It felt good on the tree, but as soon as you got it into the bin and moved it somewhere, it got really spongy and too soft. It can look okay and still be damaged really bad.”
Jones advises farmers to be ready to prop up any fallen trees as soon as possible. That’s another danger with hurricane-force winds.
“Just be ready to react when it’s over with,” Jones said. “If trees get blown over, get them stood back up in a hurry. That’s the biggest thing we can be ready to do. No matter what you stake a tree with, if a heavy wind comes in, it’s going to lay the trees over. We know that. We’ve just got to be ready to stand them up if we need to.”