VERO BEACH, Fla. — The Treasure Coast’s multimillion-dollar citrus industry sees hope in Hurricane Matthew's aftermath, according to an Indian River Citrus League official.
Growers expect only minor damage, compared to back-to-back hurricanes in September 2004. Those stronger storms destroyed 23 million boxes of an estimated 27 million box crop of fresh grapefruit — the industry's most valuable annual crop, citrus league Executive Director Doug Bournique said Sunday.
Then, as now, the industry was just starting the harvest, opening packinghouses and hiring people when hurricanes Frances and Jeanne hit.
While crop damage from Hurricane Matthew was still being compiled Sunday, Bournique said he expected it to be minor compared to 2004.
"There should be some minor dropping” of fruit in the estimated 35,000 acres of citrus in St. Lucie and Indian River counties, he said. “That, we can deal with. We dodged a huge bullet.”
Most groves are five to 10 miles west of the coast and winds peaked at only 48 mph overnight Thursday — far below the 120 mph winds that were forecast along the oceanfront. Matthew’s peak winds in Vero Beach were 74 mph, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.
Also rainfall was comparatively light and the storm moved quickly, Bournique said. “We had a glancing blow.”
In recent decades, the industry has been hit by freezes and diseases, as well as hurricanes.