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'Some groves had 100% loss': Florida citrus growers brace for another hurricane season

Parts of Hardee County, Florida, were completely underwater as Hurricane Ian moved through.

WAUCHULA, Fla. — With the start of hurricane season now here, communities across the Tampa Bay area are still recovering from Hurricane Ian. 

When Ian hit, parts of Hardee County were completely underwater. Citrus growers were facing 60 to 80 percent fruit loss.

Darin Hughes is the vice president of Krause Services, a commercial citrus grove management company. Krause Services manages upwards of 6,000 acres of citrus groves.

"This was a new grove that Hurricane Ian did a lot of damage to and we're still in the process of cleaning it up," Hughes said as he pointed to damaged trees in his grove. "We just got the fruit picked not long ago so we have to get these damaged trees out so we can get new trees planted."

It can take growers up to a year to see the full scope of damage a hurricane causes. For Krause Services, some of their groves that would typically produce 12 trailers full of citrus only produced one this harvest.

"Harvesting went very quickly because there wasn't a lot to pick," Hughes said. Valencia oranges are grown on Krause Services-owned groves and are typically harvested in May and June.

While Hurricane Ian hit Hardee County hard, it wasn't the only factor that played into a tough citrus season. 

"You have the advanced stages of greening in all the trees, we've had two freezes — one we weren't expecting. So, you had a lot of cold damage to the trees," Hughes said. "You've had the hurricane, and now a drought on top of that."

In the USDA's 2022-2023 Florida all-orange forecast, it's estimated orange production is down 62 percent compared to last season. 

Every time growers thought they were catching a break, it was short-lived. 

"I don't know that we've ever had this many hard hits in one season," Hughes said. "Some groves had 100% loss. We did not pick a single orange out of several groves."

As we enter another Florida hurricane season, growers across the sunshine state are hopeful these next six months are calm and fruitful.

The growers at Krause Services said there is a silver lining to low production this season: Better pricing in their contracts for the next season.

Malique Rankin is a general assignment reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. You can email her story ideas at mrankin@10tampabay.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. 

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