Hurricane Dorian Could Ravage Florida's Agricultural Industry, Costing Hundreds of Millions in Damage

As Hurricane Dorian churns toward Florida, the state's agricultural industry is bracing for the possibility of widespread damage; for yet another year, various crop producers could face financial losses.

"The major commodities of concern are citrus (oranges and grapefruit), nursery and floriculture products, sugarcane, beef and dairy cattle, and some other fruit and vegetable production that is just getting underway for the winter season crop," Christa Court, the Director of the program in Economic Impact Analysis at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, told Newsweek.

"We could be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue for Florida producers, if the current forecast holds."

In 2015, the state's agriculture, natural resources and food industries outputs and sales revenues "were estimated to be greater than $160 billion," Saqib Mukhtar, the Agricultural Programs leader at the University of Florida's IFAS, told Newsweek. But as hurricanes continue plowing into the state, those working in the industry are left to absorb the financial hit. Even if they have insurance, a report from the IFAS said, the payouts don't cover the financial losses.

Dorian, a Category 3 hurricane, is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 storm before hitting southern Florida next week and then traveling north. The storm could to wreak havoc on citrus growers, who are weeks away from their harvest, according to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. Two years ago, Hurricane Irma left a path of wreckage in Florida. The 2017 storm destroyed more than 3 million citrus trees and cost the citrus industry between $1.75 and $1.83 billion in output alone.

Hurricane Michael followed the next year, costing $158 million in crop and animal damages in Northwest Florida and an estimated $1.3 billion in tinder damage, Mukhtar told Newsweek.

Perhaps more significantly, Michael caused enough damage that some farmers simply could not absorb the economic costs of repairing equipment and returning facilities to a functioning state, Court wrote in an article co-authored with a University of Georgia professor. Combined with a loss of income from sales, the labor costs of cleaning up land can exacerbate the toll of hurricanes for producers across a range of industries.

While agricultural producers wait and watch as Dorian approaches, the government, too, is closely tracking the hurricane.

"With Hurricane Dorian expected to strengthen into an extremely dangerous storm, we're preparing for possible widespread crop damage, in particular from standing water," Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried told Newsweek.

Guy Davies, an inspector for the Florida Division of Plant Industry, checks an orange tree for the insect Asian citrus psyllid in 2013. Joe Raedle/Getty Images