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Florida Farmers Battle to Bounce Back Since Irma

Ashley Feldhaus, Internal Communications, Crop Science, Bayer U.S.

I was sitting at the table one Sunday morning, as I normally do, eating breakfast with my husband and my parents. I was caught up on laundry, the house was clean, I’d spent time with friends and was already in planning mode for the work week ahead.

I was thinking about my to-do list and trying to remember what was on my calendar for Monday morning, when the news caught my attention. The anchor was discussing the recent devastation Hurricane Irma had brought to thousands of families and businesses, and how thousands were working to rebuild.

Next thing I know, the reporter is speaking to a Florida citrus farmer. He and his father had lost everything.

I turned my head and focused on the glass of orange juice that sat in front of me. Feeling especially thankful for this beverage, I decided that I wanted to help share stories of farmers in Florida. I work in communications at Bayer for the Crop Science division, so I began to contact our colleagues in the field.

We were connected with two growers, Scott Lambeth and Victor Story, who were both directly impacted by Irma. Below are their stories.

Get to Know the Growers

Scott Lambeth and Victor Story both come from a lineage of citrus grove farmers and have a collective 7,500 acres of Florida farmland. This year their shared commonalities grew, as Hurricane Irma directly impacted their farms, their livelihoods and the future health of their businesses.

After spending some time with Scott and Victor, we learned about how they and their farms are recovering from Irma. The conversation was both motivating and inspiring.

Scott Lambeth, Golden River Fruit Company — Vero Beach & Fort Pierce, Florida

“How can I maximize the health of my trees?”

That’s the question Lambeth asked himself after 40 to 50 percent of his total crops on the ground were lost overnight due to Hurricane Irma. To keep his operations moving forward, Lambeth couldn’t sit and dwell on the devastation.

“Our focus is on tree health and getting our roots back to their former state, if we expect to have a decent crop next year,” said Lambeth. The road to health won’t be easy, however, as some areas of his farm experienced standing water for up to seven days.

Lambeth’s farmers — located in Vero Beach and Fort Pierce — mainly lost fresh grapefruit, though he also produces lemons, tangerines and oranges.

More than just the loss of fruit, Lambeth explained that local packing houses are going through a huge consolidation process and are down to a handful of houses due to greening.

“People are joining forces, yet packing houses are operating with only half the amount of grapefruit they once had,” said Lambeth.

It’s what he referred to as a trickledown effect.

Sales companies and exporters can’t meet their numbers, which then impacts the truckers, packers, pickers and juice plants. For the farmers who weren’t vertically integrated prior to Hurricane Irma, there is a great fear that their farms won’t be able to bounce back.

Lambeth, on the other hand, is confident that his farms won’t be going away anytime soon. He credits this belief to Bayer’s product portfolio and strong partnership with his farm.

“We are planting 150 additional acres for growth in January, so we will still be here,” said Lambeth. “[Hurricane Irma] has been a terrible event for Florida, but we will keep going and growing our business.”

Victor Story, The Story Company — Lake Wales, Florida

Victor Story knows that to be a successful and longstanding Floridian farmer, his crops need diversity in where their roots get planted. This is why his groves are located across the state — namely in central, southwest and southeast Florida.

Unfortunately, that diversity didn’t save his farms from Hurricane Irma’s wrath — each grove was directly hit.

“Today, and for the coming weeks, we are in recovery mode,” said Story. “We are in the process of physically standing up our young trees again — many of which blew to a 45 degree angle — and preserving those with fruit until they are ready to be picked.”

Some of the worst damage to Vic’s farms in southwest Florida.

With 70 percent of early oranges lost in certain areas, every orange that can be preserved matters. Story is using Aliette, a Bayer crop protection product, on his early oranges to stop the fungal disease commonly referred to as “brown rot.”

Hurricane Irma was certainly devastating, but Story is stronger and more equipped to handle the crisis than most.

Now 72 years old, he first started working on his family farm at age eight. Over the years, he’s witnessed many natural disasters, from freezes and hurricanes to rough crop cycles. They are always difficult to live through, but that doesn’t mean they should be debilitating.

“I want Bayer employees — and everyone — to know that farmers are good at managing and mitigating risk,” said Story. “That’s why my farms are scattered throughout Florida.”

Story and his sons, who oversee the day-to-day business, have lost production and witnessed disease across their groves. Despite this, they feel confident that they’ve found the answers to effectively manage and treat the diseases.

Some of the worst damage to Vic’s farms in southwest Florida.

“We are still in business, and we are going to continue to be in business, but we need the support of our partners, lenders and suppliers like Bayer Crop Science,” said Story.

As he explained, partnerships like the one he has with Bayer provide the products he needs to help raise crops and more efficiently manage natural disasters.



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