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Irma Deals An Unprecedented Blow To Florida's Citrus Industry


Citrus farmers are among those assessing the damage from Hurricane Irma. And the storm isn't the only thing that's been affecting Florida's $10 billion citrus industry. Amy Green of member station WMFE reports the state's iconic crop already was reeling from a disease called citrus greening.

MARCO RUBIO: Hey, sorry. How are you doing? Good morning. How are you?


AMY GREEN, BYLINE: Citrus growers greet Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in a parking lot, shaking hands before heading to a nearby grove to see the damage. They're asking for federal help after Irma dealt an unprecedented statewide blow to the leading crop in Florida, which is second behind Brazil in oranges for juice.

Mike Sparks of Florida Citrus Mutual says growers have dropped fruit, toppled trees and standing water in their groves. He says south Florida is hardest hit.

MIKE SPARKS: No doubt. We've lost 70, 75, in some cases, a 100 percent of next year's crop.

GREEN: But he says the damage extends throughout the state.

SPARKS: It doesn't matter where you are in the state of Florida. If you're growing citrus, you have been hurt by this hurricane.

GREEN: It's the latest blow. Already Florida's citrus industry was decimated by a disease called citrus greening. Production is down 70 percent from its peak some 20 years ago. Growers had been enjoying their strongest season in recent years while researchers had seem close to a cure for greening - newly bred trees impervious to the disease. Here's Nelson.

BILL NELSON: Here you were just about to have a change...


NELSON: ...of more production than last year. And here comes Irma.

GREEN: Rubio says he worries about whether growers will replant.

RUBIO: You put yourself in the position of a small grower, or even a large one for that matter, who is already kind of dealing with a crop that has a lot of challenges associated with it, and then you lose a majority of the trees, you've got to really think about whether they even have the resources to rebuild, to replant.

GREEN: Growers say it's too soon to know the full extent of the damage. For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Lake Wales, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amy Green