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What Dorian Means For Florida Citrus

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Shelters are being set up. Businesses are boarding up windows as Florida prepares for Hurricane Dorian. But you can't board up or evacuate the oranges, grapefruit and tangelos in a grove. Many citrus groves seem to be right in the storm's projected path. We're joined now from Lake Wales, Fla., by Ellis Hunt Jr. He's chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission and a third-generation citrus grower. Mr. Hunt, thanks for being with us.

ELLIS HUNT JR: You're welcome.

SIMON: What can you do with a storm headed right your way?

HUNT: You know, that's probably the most stressful thing. There's very little you can do. We're several months away from being able to harvest the early fruit. And unfortunately, the grapefruit is about the size of softballs, and that's big enough and heavy enough that, in hurricane-force winds, it'll blow off. So you kind of have a triple threat of uprooting trees, blowing the crop off and/or flooding. And citrus trees do not like to stand in water. We lost 150 acres two years ago due to standing in water for 11 days, so probably as serious a threat as I've ever seen.

SIMON: When you talk about two years ago - Hurricane Irma?

HUNT: Correct. It pretty much touched the entire citrus industry. We still have not received our hurricane money that was kind of promised from the federal government. So we're still grinding through that process in hopes of receiving some financial assistance, which, basically, we've already spent.

SIMON: So before you can even begin to recover from Hurricane Irma, you might be confronting Hurricane Dorian.

HUNT: Yeah. That's what we're looking at, and that's what's really got people just so - I don't know what they're - you know, I want to be optimistic because if you're in agriculture, you have to be optimistic. But it is - you talk about a weight on your shoulders or a big, big black cloud following you, that's what it feels like. You know, perhaps if we have a miracle and enough people praying, perhaps it could turn and go north and stay out in the ocean off the coast. So I'm going to keep believing that maybe we'll be spared.

SIMON: May I ask, Mr. Hunt, how many employees you have?

HUNT: Probably right now about 150. And, you know, a lot of people don't realize that. If you get away, you know, 10, 15 miles away from the coast of Florida, where the majority of the population lives, but when you get into central Florida, the major economy is agriculture. And so that's what's so devastating for all our little rural communities and the trickle-down effect and economic potential devastation is - it's what's so difficult. And we just have to keep praying this thing, if it could please turn and stay out off the coast and the Atlantic, that would be the biggest answer to prayers. But whatever happens, as a farmer, we're just going to have to deal with it.

SIMON: Ellis Hunt Jr. is chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission. Good luck to you, sir.

HUNT: Thank you very much. We appreciate your concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE'S "TO THE GROUND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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