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Drenching Wet Season Leaves South Florida Farmers Struggling With Crop Losses

Even before Tropical Storm Eta, parts of western Miami-Dade County were flooded after a drenching wet season.
Even before Tropical Storm Eta, parts of western Miami-Dade County were flooded after a drenching wet season.

Heavy rains that lingered weeks after the official end of the wet season left farmers struggling with flooded fields and meager crops.

Even before Tropical Storm Eta hit, a drenching wet season had left South Florida water conservation areas and western suburbs so soggy that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned it could take months to drain.

South Florida farmers also got hit hard, with fields flooded and struggling crops.

“We have grown crops to maturity and harvested and never turned on a pump to water. That's never happened to me,” said Sam Accursio, a second generation Homestead farmer. “It’s been so wet. Every week, we’re getting hit.”

With fields so wet, Accursio’s bean, squash and pickling cucumber crops are low, leaving him struggling to fill customer’s orders.

“They've been marginal at best,” he said. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are two major holidays for Florida growers. And we're going to miss both of them. The prices are going up, but we don't have the produce to compensate for our losses.

The wet season started with a record-breaking May rain ahead of Tropical Storm Arthur. By month’s end, Miami International Airport had recorded nearly 20 inches and smashed some daily records.

As the season progressed, June, July and August were drier, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Molleda, who oversees warnings for the Miami office. But by October, numbers were climbing again, with Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport recording its third wettest wet season and Miami International Airport hitting its seventh on record.

Molleda said the wet season lingered beyond its official end because of an unusually strong high pressure system over the western Atlantic. The system combined with a monsoon weather pattern in the Caribbean to keep South Florida extra wet and boost the busy end to a hurricane season with a record-breaking 30 named storms. Of the six major storms that formed with Cat 3 winds or higher, four formed in October and November.

By Oct. 15, Molleda said rainfall across most Southeast Florida cities amounted to 45 inches, about 10 inches above normal. In the Redland, just north of Accursio’s fields, rainfall was nearly 17 inches above normal.

With COVID numbers on the rise, Accursio said farmers could face even more troubling months ahead.

I'm hearing shutdowns all over the United States. It's very alarming,” he said. “If we duplicate what happened in March, that we shut all these restaurants down again, it's going to be devastating to Florida growers.
Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN.org.

Jenny Staletovich has been a journalist working in Florida for nearly 20 years.
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