Economists at the University of Florida have narrowed the estimated agricultural losses from Hurricane Ian to $1.03 billion statewide, and Hillsborough County was No. 2 in the state at $104.4 million, the university said Thursday.
Florida’s already vulnerable citrus industry was hit hardest by the storm, with more than $247 million in estimated losses, according to the university’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Economists initially projected total losses from the powerful Category 4 storm would be somewhere between $787 million and $1.56 billion, and they arrived at the refined number after months of data analysis, according to the university.
The estimate represents the total value of livestock, crops, nursery and aquaculture that won’t be harvested or marketed because of the hurricane.
“The main takeaway is that there was a significant production loss,” Christa Court, director of the university’s Economic Impact Analysis Program, said during a media briefing Thursday.
“We’ve shown that citrus and particularly vegetables — because of the part of the season that they were in, and their location in the state — were some of the most significantly impacted (crops).”
Manatee and Hillsborough counties were the hardest-hit, with a combination of nearly $231 million estimated lost, according to UF economists. Together, both counties make up about 22% of the total agricultural losses because of the storm.
Hillsborough County’s fruit industry, not including citrus, made up a bulk of the county’s losses, data show. All told, 71% of the $104.4 million lost in Hillsborough County was from the fruit industry.
In Manatee County, 70% of the $126.4 million in losses is vegetables, according to university data. Palm Beach, Hardee and Hendry counties each had total agricultural losses north of $72 million.
“These are estimates, and some of these crops are not at their final harvest stage,” Court said. “So it might remain to be seen what actually happens when (farmers) get to that final harvest and how close these estimates are.”
Nearly 5 million acres of agricultural land was affected by the storm statewide, and about 60% of that was grazing land, Court said. That land’s annual production brought in about $8 billion in 2022, so losses account for about 13% of its yearly production, according to university data.
Some of the $1.03 billion in losses could be recouped from farmers through insurance, but the university’s analysis doesn’t capture that in its estimates, according to Court. The analysis also doesn’t include production losses that might arise in future harvesting seasons.
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If a farmer was planning for a $10 million harvest, and the storm ruined $6 million of that crop, the university logs a $6 million loss, Court explained. Some of that may be recovered with insurance. The university doesn’t have sound data yet on just how many crops were insured statewide.
Behind citrus, Florida’s vegetable and melon industries were also ravaged by the storm, with $204.6 million in estimated losses, according to university economists. Florida’s greenhouses and nurseries also took a blow, experiencing an estimated $195.4 million in losses. Other commodities affected were non-citrus fruits, row crops and livestock.
Researchers used a scale called a Hurricane Composite Intensity Index, which sums the intensity of wind, rainfall and flooding, to quantify the sweeping agricultural impacts in each county — and put every county on a level playing field in their analysis.
Sarasota and Hardee counties ranked the highest on the index, meaning Hurricane Ian’s losses were particularly bad compared to the county’s geographic area. But overall, larger counties like Hillsborough lost more money.
Farmers already recovering from a freeze in January 2022 then had to face Hurricane Ian. Just over a month later, Category 1 Hurricane Nicole made landfall south of Vero Beach on Nov. 10, further stressing the state’s agriculture. Then came another freeze in December.
“The same areas affected by Ian were hit, in some cases, by multiple weather events that each would have affected the agricultural yield on their own in an ordinary year,” Court said.