By Clint Thompson
One Florida blueberry producer “took it on the chin” from Hurricane Ian on Wednesday. Unfortunately, the situation dealt Jerod Gross in Arcadia might get worse due to rising flood waters.
Early signs indicate a devastating loss for Gross, who manages all of Island Grove’s operations throughout the state. The worst impact was felt in Arcadia, not far from where Ian made landfall.
“We’re under water, power is out and the water’s going to continue to rise. (It rained) over 15 inches in a short period of time. Wind was severe and extreme. We had sustained gusts over 80 miles per hour for several hours from every different direction. We lost some production and barns and buildings. It’s not good,” said Gross, who also has a personal blueberry farm of 30 acres in Arcadia. “(The hurricane) came in through Charlotte County and right up through Charlotte Harbor and Arcadia’s the next town northeast of it. We took it on the chin.
“(The water’s) still rising and it’s going to continue to come up. It’s not going to be good.”
Of the 350 acres Gross oversees statewide, 165 are located in Arcadia. That is nearly 200 acres that were heavily impacted. It’s reminiscent of Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“We went through this several years ago with Hurricane Irma. We had to reset everything and start over. Here we go again,” Gross said.
Other areas were spared the heavy winds and excessive rainfall. Leonard Park, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, said his blueberry operation in Pasco County was very fortunate.
“We’ve got more than quarter of a million plants, and I don’t have but a couple hundred on the ground. In Irma, we were really devastated. We had probably two months of just recovery work,” Park said. “I would say we were very fortunate.
“North of Tampa, up in Pasco, Hernando in that area, we were spared the brunt of it. We thought it was going to come right across just like everybody did. We thought it was going to come up Tampa Bay and plow right over us.”
Park said his farm is located on a hilly area that allows for better drainage.
Ryan Atwood, who lives in Mount Dora, Florida, farms more than 50 acres of blueberries and manages another 350 acres, will have to stake up some plants that had blown over, but nothing really serious.
“We were fortunate that it went a little further south than our area. We got a lot of wind and a lot of rain,” Atwood said. “I’m not expecting to have any kind of major catastrophe.”