Hurricane Irma has made things a lot tougher for Florida citrus growers already reeling from the impact of a disease that has cut harvests by 70% since 2005. The state's eastern seaboard is perhaps the best grapefruit-growing zone in the world, and growers estimate that this year's harvest will be down around 35% from last year, which was the smallest harvest in at least 50 years, USA Today reports. Citrus greening disease, which turns the fruit bitter, has hit the grapefruit crop especially hard. Orange growers statewide, meanwhile, believe the storm, which knocked vast amounts of young fruit from the trees, will cut harvests by at least a third—and with groves flooded, not much of the dropped fruit can be recovered for juice.
"We've had many hurricanes, we've had freezes, but this one is widespread," Harold Browning of the Citrus Research and Development Foundation tells the AP. "We're seeing the kind of damage we haven't seen, ever." Growers say root rot sets in after citrus trees are underwater for more than 72 hours and they have been struggling to get water out of flooded groves. Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association spokeswoman Lisa Lochridge says losses of other crops are up to 70% in some parts of the state, meaning prices may go up around the country this winter. She says this fall's tomato crop will be very light, though strawberry growers are expecting a fast recovery. (Read more Hurricane Irma stories.)