Monday, October 4, 2010

Series of tropical storms tests endurance of Brooks' papaya crops

10/1/2010 Produce News article written by Christina DiMartino

The nearly continual daisy-chain of tropical weather systems that has moved across the Atlantic Ocean this summer has held Central American producers at full attention.

Tropical Storm Alex hit central Belize June 27, bringing severe thunderstorms and winds of 40-60 mph.

Tropical Storm Karl hit northern Belize Sept. 15, delivering severe thunderstorms and winds of 40-60 mph. Karl later turned into a Category 3 hurricane before hitting Veracruz, Mexico.

Most recently, Tropical Storm Mathew hit southern Belize Sept. 25, bringing severe thunderstorms and winds of 40-50 mph.

Brooks Tropicals LLC, headquartered in Homestead, FL, grows its papayas in Belize. The elegant papaya trees are long and lanky, with the heavy fruit growing at the tops of the thin trunks. A strong storm cannot only tear the fruit from the trees, it also can cause the tops of the trees to snap completely off.

"A direct hit from any of these storms would have set our papaya production back months," Bill Brindle, vice president of sales for Brooks Tropicals, told The Produce News. “Fortunately we were only partially hit, with the worst damage coming from Tropical Storm Karl. Karl knocked down several of our fields up near the Mexican border. Flooding and wind from all three storms caused tree losses throughout the entire Belize growing region.”

Officially, the Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but the Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory points out that there is nothing magical in these dates. Hurricanes and tropical storms have occasionally occurred outside this six-month period, but the timeline was chosen because it is when over 97 percent of tropical storm activity has been recorded throughout storm-tracking history.

Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals, added, “We have definitely had our share of severe tropical weather. Now that it has passed, we can focus on getting production back to normal.

“We plant new papaya fields every month,” she continued. “And we are looking forward to some of those new fields coming on line to replace acreage lost to the tropical storms this year.”