It has been a tense week for the Caribbean islands and the SE coast of the US this last week as they brace for Hurricane Irma, hailed as being one of the most dangerous tropical storm ever to hit the Atlantic.
According to the most recent reports from the US National Hurricane Center, as of 6 am EST (12pm CET), "Irma has now passed over Barbuda and is expected to bring life-threatening wind, storm surges, and rainfall hazards to portions of the northern Leeward Islands, including the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, today."
Tense times for Puerto Rico
"We expect to feel the first gusts of wind today at noon (18.00 CET) our time. The hurricane will have a great impact on the agricultural industry in general, and we have been doing everything we can in the days leading up to the storm, by harvesting as much as possible and making sure that we are prepared once Irma hits. Papaya trees and vegetables are expected to have the most losses. However, the most important thing to us here, is that we keep ourselves and our families safe," shared Mayra Lee Quiñones from MS Mango Farm LLC in Puerto Rico.
There have been reports in local media that the Hurricane is expected to create even bigger problems for some residents in Puerto Rico after the Director of Puerto Rico's power company warned that some could be without electricity for as long as 4 to 6 months.
Dominican Republic to follow
After hitting the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Irma is expected to hit the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, as well as the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, with hurricane watches for portions of Haiti and the central Bahamas.
Julio Cruz from ManaDivine in the Dominican Republic said that producers have been receiving instruction from the government on how to prepare for the storm and growers have been advised to harvest everything that is ripe enough to be sold, in order to minimise losses.
"We have been paying a lot of attention to the news and weather forecasts. So far, it looks like the hurricane should primarily hit the northern part of the island, which is good news for banana growers, since most of the production is in the southern part of the island," shared Julio.
"Leading up to the hurricane, there has been an oversupply of bananas in the market, which has caused prices to plummet. Of course, losses in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico would have a huge impact on the market, meaning that there wouldn't be enough supply for a few months, until the growers are able to harvest the following crops. However, the lack of supply doesn't mean that we would all suddenly become rich, but more that prices will most likely just go back to normal levels for this time of year."
The storm is not expected to end any time soon, with dangerous winds and rainfall to these areas from Wednesday night through Friday.
Orange juice prices skyrocket in wake of Irma
Florida, the nation’s top orange producer, has declared a state of emergency as Irma approaches the Caribbean. All of the state’s crop is at risk of moderate to severe damage, with trees already full of fruit, Donald Keeney, a meteorologist at MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in a telephone interview.
Orange juice prices surged as Hurricane Irma continues towards the Florida coast. Prices jumped to the highest they have been in 16 months, up by 6.2%, at $1.45 per pound.
Florida takes warning seriously
"Here in Florida, we don’t take hurricanes lightly, especially now we've seen Harvey devastate Houston and surrounding areas,” says Martin Moldonado with Pure Fresh based in Florida. “We start taking precautions very early. In fact, we’re already looking at Jose, another storm right behind Irma.” Every storm is a concern and we go by: “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
“We’re vigilant of the situation and focus on the National Hurricane Center reports that come out 5am/11am/5pm and 11pm. Local media hypes up the reality, for whatever reason, and government officials are always trying to save face and over react, which in the most part is good. Better safe than sorry.”
Talking to employees, growers and customers
“Aside from making some personal preparations we are mostly just spending more time explaining to all involved our situation. Again, getting everyone ready early. First, we tell our employees to prepare early so we can take care of business up to when humanly possible, before the storm hits. Then we go to our growers and talk about alternate routes, lowering volume and any other adjustments needed to be made to avoid holding product in the coolers that are potentially going to be affected. We go to our customers and ask for their support and patience during the preparedness, actual hit and the recovery. We also like to be in close contact with our trucks and also express our concerns for their safety and make adjustments in routes and pick up days and operation hours,” explained Moldonado.
“Growers are concerned because they’re constantly harvesting and packing and have to ship out, so we must really coordinate efforts as to affect them in the least possible way. So looking for alternate routes, shipping in other manners and forcing market to adjust pricing to move volume as quickly as possible. We want our coolers to rotate inventories quickly and move product out as fast as possible and be empty if the storm hits.”
Dependence on ports
Ayco Farms has a clear plan as well. “All of South Florida is watching the latest updates in order to make the necessary arrangements,” says Sandy Gatanio with the company. Currently, the models are showing that this storm will enter Florida from The Keys and from there it will either go straight up the middle of swing to the east. Regardless of the path it takes, this looks to be a destructive and powerful storm,” Gatanio said. “This time of the year we depend on the ports to unload our containers from Central and South America. If we can unload the vessel and receive all our containers by Thursday, our plans will be to ship everything out of our warehouse by Friday. Trucks will also be looking to leave the state as soon as possible as well.”
Ayco is fortunate in the sense that farms in Guatemala have not been affected by severe weather this season. “Although we still have a few months of hurricane season to go,” said Gatanio. “The season for Florida's vegetable crops is still early for planting and we do not see a major impact on crop damages or price hikes.” Gatanio does not have information on citrus trees.
“We are watching hurricane Irma closely as it approaches the Eastern coast of the United States,” says Katiana Valdes with Crystal Valley. “It is already one of the strongest hurricanes on record in the Atlantic so our primary concern is the safety of our employees and their families. We have a facility in Miami and we will be prepared and will let our customers know immediately if any orders or deliveries will be affected.” As of right now, Valdes does not expect any of the areas it sources from to be impacted by Hurricane Irma but, it will monitor the storm closely for the next couple of days for any changes.
Manuel Michel with the National Mango board also mentioned they are closely monitoring the hurricane tracker and doesn’t expect the hurricane to have an impact on mango sourcing. “At this moment, the U.S. receives the majority of its mango imports from northern Sinaloa, Mexico, so hurricane Irma should not affect the mango supply,” Michel said.
Produce that goes down south just gets delayed
“It’s always in the back of everybody’s minds. I’m having conversations to find out what the potential damage is, but Georgia is where we start so this might impact the stuff that we’re dealing with in about a month from now, maybe a month and a half,” says Savvas Tsoukalas with Ontario-based Savco Worldwide. “That could have some impact. But again, there’s so much supply over demand during that time of year and even if everything’s devastated I don’t see it being so far out of whack. Unless it’s a direct hit,” Tsoukalas added. “And even sales of product going southbound—if you’ve got pumpkins for example, there’s a pause that everyone’s waiting for. A short delay and we don’t want to send anyone into harm’s way so everything just gets delayed.”