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'You can't fight Mother Nature' | Florida farmers continue to recover from Hurricane Ian devastation

The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates Hurricane Ian damages to the state's agriculture is as high as $1.8 billion.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Department of Agriculture estimates Hurricane Ian left behind $1.8 billion in damages to Florida's agriculture industry, mainly to crops and infrastructure.

When Hurricane Ian tore through southwest Florida, some farms were devastated.

"There's nothing you can do, really," farmer Tres McQuaig said. "We can prepare, tie everything down, put things up, and do the best we possibly can. But you can't fight mother nature. She's going to win every time."

McQuaig is the General Manager at Astin Farms, which grows strawberries and blueberries across multiple counties. He said their Manatee County location was hit hardest.

"Out of a 70-acre block of plastic, we lost 30 acres of it. It was very bad and that was just from water erosion," he said.

However, even with an estimated $200,000 in damages to his farms, he still considers himself lucky.

"Down south, they were hurt really hard because they'd already planted tomatoes, watermelon, pepper, all those crops," McQuaig said. "They were just wiped clean."

Since the storm, researchers at the University of Florida have also been working to qualify the damage to agriculture in the state. They estimate production losses to be as high as $1.5 billion.

Christa Court is an assistant professor of regional economics in the Food and Resource Economics Department at UF. She explains what they study in order to calculate such loss.

"It would be like a change in sales revenue because of damage to crops or potentially lost animals," Court said. "Or it could be the change in their expenditures as a result of the hurricane. Maybe they have to reapply fertilizer or maybe they had to have some extra expenses to prep for the specific disaster."

Court said her work related to the hurricane is far from complete.

"These numbers are not necessarily including what might be medium or long-term impacts of things like flooding or of some of these damages," Couty. 

According to the Department of Agriculture report, as much as 11% of the citrus trees may have been lost in Florida.

Even before the hurricane, Florida's orange production was predicted to be down by almost a third this season because of the deadly citrus greening disease.

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