Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hendry-Glades Farmers Hurt Bad By Freeze

SW Florida Vegetable Farmworker Income Down $23.6 Million After Freeze

LABELLE, FL. -- The freeze that decimated thousands of acres of vegetable crops throughout southwest Florida earlier this month also had an enormous effect on farm labor income, costing field workers an estimated $23.6 million-plus, according to Dr. Fritz Roka, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida (UF)/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee (SWFREC).

"This figure includes labor income losses for seasonal and migrant farmworkers," Roka explains.  "These workers are employed on a day-to-day basis, and if the crop is gone, they have no work."

The estimate of income losses was compiled by Roka in conjunction with Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton, assistant professor of vegetable horticulture at the SWFREC, and Gene McAvoy, director and regional vegetable specialist at the UF/IFAS Hendry County Cooperative Extension Service in LaBelle.  The report indicates that of roughly 52,600 acres of vegetable farm land in the five-county area of Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades, and Charlotte counties, 16,670 have been lost to the freeze.  Affected crops include bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, bush beans, tomatoes, and sweet corn.

The total value of pre-harvest crop losses to the freeze is estimated to be more than $147 million.  The implications of the freeze to farmworker income are estimated on the basis of lost opportunity to harvest and pack the affected vegetable crops. 

"What we�ve heard is that most of the damaged acreage was at the beginning of the harvest stage," Roka says.  "All of the labor income to grow the crop had already been paid to the workers.  Plus, workers will still be paid for any cleanup work that needs to be done.  So, the $23.6 million-plus figure represents solely what would have been paid to workers to harvest and pack the crops.  That�s a major loss to the workers."

The loss of farmworker income will have a dampening economic impact on local communities in southwest Florida, such as Immokalee and LaBelle, which house a significant portion of the seasonal and migrant farmworker population. The lost income means that workers have less to spend in local businesses.

If the impact of a damaging freeze forces many farmworkers to move out of the area to seek work elsewhere, growers who choose to replant their crops or plan to harvest spring crops in March and April may run the risk of a farmworker shortage at harvest time.

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