BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Vegetable farmers in western Palm Beach County were working to remove water from soggy fields Tuesday after as much as 6 inches of rain since Friday.
Both vegetable planting and sugar cane harvesting have been halted for the last few days.
"I am very concerned with our lettuce crop. It doesn't like this much water," Rick Roth, president of Roth Farms, headquartered in Belle Glade, said this morning. "You will see 20 to 30 percent crop losses in some fields."
Vegetable harvesting typically starts around Nov. 10, but some radishes will be harvested next week if the rain stops, Roth said.
Monday, workers were using shovels to clear drainage ditches of mud, Roth said.
David Sui, Palm Beach County extension agent for commercial vegetables and tropical fruits, said one of the main concerns is missing a week in the vegetable planting schedule.
"The farmers start planting in September, then plant each week all the way until February so they sustain market volume throughout the season," Sui said.
Palm Beach County County has the highest agricultural revenues of any county east of the Mississippi, with the vegetable crop alone worth roughly $300 million a year, Sui said.
Tractors cannot go into muddy fields because of the lack of traction and the risk of becoming stuck. While some crops are planted as seedlings, others are planted from tiny seeds which can be washed away, Sui said.
Florida Crystals Corp. and U.S. Sugar Corp. have halted sugar cane harvesting.
"We were forced to suspend harvest operations Friday night at 11 after 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in this area," U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said today. "The mill shut down Saturday. Since then, we've had up to 6 more inches of rain on some of our farms. Best case scenario is that we will be able to re-start harvest/processing operations Wednesday unless we get more rain today and tomorrow."
The shutdown is costing about $400,000 a day, Sanchez said. That's because of such factors as delays and the loss of operating days, extra fuel and maintenance costs, non-productive hours for operations staff and losses due to increased mud when cane is harvested again.