Florida’s Senators Assess Damage Irma did to State’s Citrus Industry

 

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio on Wednesday got eyefuls and earfuls from citrus growers on the damages inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

LAKE WALES — U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio on Wednesday got eyefuls and earfuls from citrus growers on the damages inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. It’s total destruction,” said Lee Jones, general manager of Gardinier Florida Citrus, a Sarasota-based grower with about 3,500 grove acres across the state, including Frostproof and Lake Wales. “If we don’t get federal assistance, a lot of growers in the state will be done.”

Jones shared a cellphone video with the senators of a 500-acre grove in Hendry County that is under water with more than half its trees blown over by Irma. He estimated Gardinier groves have lost more than 50 percent of its fruit, blown off the tree by hurricane winds.

“We’re going to need federal help to give farmers enough incentive to replant,” said John Barben, an Avon Park grower and president of Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the growers’ trade group, which organized the Nelson-Rubio event.

The senators met early Wednesday with about a dozen growers and Florida citrus officials outside the Lake Wales office of the Story Companies, which owns or manages about 5,000 acres of citrus in Polk and neighboring counties. The meeting took place outside because the office still has no electricity.

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