Dudley Calfee, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, spoke about blueberry damage from Hurricane Irma at the Senate Agriculture Committee meeting Oct. 12 in Tallahassee.
The meeting was among many as the Florida Legislature prepares for the 2018 legislative session. At the meeting, two sets of panels filled with Florida growers and cattlemen described the damage within their industries.
According to Calfee, the Florida blueberry industry is coming into maturity with 7,000 acres in the state, as well as a crop value of $80 to $100 million per year. However, starting a blueberry business is costly and takes time. Dudley says once the new trees are planted, a grower will not have an income for about two years. Therefore, blueberries are a big investment.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma hit Florida farms of all ages, destroying many investments and any hope of income for the newer farms. Calfee said his association is still waiting for final figures to come in regarding damage. Since there are not concrete damage reports yet, he gave some anecdotal information to the committee to explain the extent of damage on some farms.
Calfee gave a damage report from one of the association’s larger growers. The grower has 150 acres that are roughly two years old. Before Hurricane Irma hit, this grower was expecting his first major harvest. Instead, 125 acres of his plants were ripped out of the ground. Now, the biggest issue in rebuilding is the labor needed to replant 125 acres worth of plants.
Calfee reminded the committee that this is the first real catastrophe for blueberries in Florida, so there are a lot of uncertainties. Growers are unsure how much flooding or too much exposure to sunlight will impact their crop come harvest.
Another concern is the loss of leaves on the plants. Calfee said that every grower he talked to had lost some leaves. However, it is uncertain how this will impact harvest. “As a young industry coming into maturity, we have a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
Last season, Florida blueberries had a harvest of 20 million pounds. Now, Calfee is unsure what kind of harvest is in store for this season.
Calfee concluded his comments by telling the senators the best thing they can do for the growers is listen to their needs and continue to pay attention to the damage figures as they come in within the next few weeks. “We do appreciate you putting this panel together and listening to all of us. We hope you can help my industry as it comes into maturity,” Calfee concluded.
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