Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida at the worst possible time for many in the agricultural community, hitting tomato fields just before the start of seasonal harvests and damaging flower greenhouses. Ian impacted153,638 acres of vegetable and melon crops, among others, Christa Court, a University of Florida economist, said.

Bob Spencer, president of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, said he expects his crop will be down 50% because of Ian. Damage to Manatee County's tomato crop, historically the largest in Florida, will have an impact on consumers, with higher prices likely. Much of Manatee County's tomato crop goes to food services, such as cafeterias and fast food restaurants in the eastern United States, and retail stores. West Coast Tomatoes was planning to start its first harvest soon, and some of the crops may show evidence of wind burn, which won't affect the taste, Spencer said. "You will see higher prices in the stores because of this," Spencer said.

Dennis Cathcart, owner of Tropiflora, 3530 Tallevast Road, and Ralph Garrison, owner of Suncoast Nursery, 6012 18th Ave. E., have both been in the nursery business for decades. They say the damage from Ian is the worst they have seen from any storm. "It's a vast amount of damage. Seven greenhouse structures were destroyed, and about all of the others were damaged," Cathcart said of his operation specializing in bromeliads. The plants are essentially OK, but it's difficult reaching them because of damage to structures on the property.

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