In a letter posted on the FNGLA Web site the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronsonit wrote, "As a fifth-generation Floridian who's been involved in agriculture all my life, I can say without hesitation that I have never witnessed such extensive devastation to our state's agriculture sectors as that caused by Hurricane Wilma."
"Horticulture — agriculture's leading sector — has suffered catastrophic losses," continued the letter. "Greenhouses and packing facilities are in shambles. Nursery plants that survived the initial blast of Wilma are now subject to sun scalding and other threats. Such a severe blow to this sector could lead to economic meltdown in many rural areas.”
Growers were hammered by Hurricane Wilma’s destructive winds and flooding rains. Nursery shade houses and greenhouses were literally flattened, exposing many sensitive foliage plants. Many nurseries remain without phones or power, rendering needed irrigation systems inoperable.
"Hurricane Wilma is a major event in the history of Florida’s nursery and landscape industry," said Ben Bolusky, Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) executive vice president. "FNGLA has launched a full-court press with key political leaders in Washington and government officials in Tallahassee to secure disaster assistance."
More than 2,600 production nurseries in Florida were in harm's way, representing 1/3 of Florida's $9.9-billion nursery and landscape industry. Many of these very same growers were hit head-on by at least two of last year's hurricanes. Nursery growers in Miami-Dade County were in the throes of rebuilding from the estimated $370 million in nursery crop losses caused by Hurricane Katrina when Wilma struck, which compounded these losses.
According to FNGLA’s reports, nursery damage is believed to be extensive and widespread. However, due to power outages and downed communication lines, it is too early to assess the full scope of the crop loss, structural damage and business interruption caused by Hurricane Wilma.
"Last year, Florida's nursery industry proved its resiliency when it was pummeled by four storms," said Richard Carroll, FNGLA president. "Eight hurricanes in 15 months is an unprecedented challenge, but this is a big state and a big industry. Our growers will again pick up the pieces and rebound."
In addition to its heavy political lifting, FNGLA is working with its chapters and individual members to ship supplies and materials into the areas affected by Hurricane Wilma.