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Farmers in Hardee County face obstacles after Hurricane Ian ruins crop

Hurricane Ian shredded through farms in Hardee County. Fruit was blown away, groves flooded, and irrigation systems ruined.

WAUCHULA, Fla. — In Hardee County, there are areas still completely underwater, more than a week after Hurricane Ian made landfall. For farmers, the damage was extensive.

"Just stuff that's going to take time to put back together," Darin Hughes said.

He's the vice president of Krause Services' citrus division. He manages dozens of farms across multiple counties. On some groves, as much as 80 percent of the citrus fruits were lost. 

Hughes gave a tour of the groves, pausing along the way to show the damage. A street was washed away from the severe flooding from the nearby Peace River. Orange trees were toppled over. And everywhere you looked, there were oranges on the ground, rotting. 

"[It'll be] weeks, if not months of labor," Hughes said. "Getting irrigation and tubing put back. Getting the dirt hauled in and the roots covered up, the trees removed, we still have a lot of groves we can't get into yet because of the oak trees."

When asked if he had the manpower to get through all the needed repair work, Hughes took a moment, let out a sigh, and said, "No, it's going to be very labor intensive."

It's been a tough year for Florida's orange groves. A lot of damage was already done by citrus greening. This is when an insect infects the orange tree leaves, preventing the tree from getting the needed water and nutrients to its roots. 

Greening and a hurricane make for tough days for farmers. 

"It's sad," Hughes said. "It makes you sick at your stomach when you see what started out being really productive and looking good like 'ok you're in a good spot.' Now, you're knocked down another peg or two."

The devastation done by Hurricane Ian hit fruit and vegetable farmers too. Bass Farms produces cucumbers, squash, and watermelon. All of their crops were wiped out by Ian. 

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"We're finished for this crop," Adrian Bass said. "It's all gone. So we'll clean everything up and start again in the spring."

Bass was supposed to start harvesting next weekend. Now, he'll be cleaning up the mess Ian left instead. 

"It's tough, but we gotta stay focused on the future," Bass said. 

Bass gets two paychecks a year, after harvests. He said this storm will have a ripple effect as repairs begin. 

"It's really tough because with the cost inputs that have risen so much in the past few years on top of the market not really reflecting that it was already tough and now it's even tougher."

There is some federal financial assistance available. To learn about your options, click here.

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