GORDON POUNDS CROPS IN FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tropical Storm Gordon dealt a major blow to Florida's winter crops in ripping through the southern and central regions of the state last week.While there were conflicting reports of the damage, it was clear that the storm, upgraded later in the week to a hurricane after it left the state, seriously affected fruit and vegetable crops in Florida. The damage will lead to more reliance

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tropical Storm Gordon dealt a major blow to Florida's winter crops in ripping through the southern and central regions of the state last week.

While there were conflicting reports of the damage, it was clear that the storm, upgraded later in the week to a hurricane after it left the state, seriously affected fruit and vegetable crops in Florida. The damage will lead to more reliance on crops elsewhere and probably higher prices.

The state supplies roughly 90% of the domestic vegetable crop from December to February, according to figures from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

According to the Florida State Department of Agriculture here, Gordon has caused at least $100 million worth of damage to winter crops in Florida, and there's probably more to come. "A large part of America's Thanksgiving Day dinner is under water," said Michelle Lagos, communications director for the state agriculture department, in an interview with SN late last week. Although the citrus crop was spared most of the damage, other fruit and vegetable crops in Dade County and in Palm Beach County appear to have been devastated, Lagos told SN. "We have white caps on the potato fields in Dade County," she said. "And most of the radish crop grown in Zellwood, Fla., is gone."

Lagos said losses include an estimated $20 million worth of tomatoes, $15 million worth of grain crops, $10 million worth of peppers, $6 million worth of squash, $5 million worth of potatoes and $5 million worth of cucumbers.

She said more damage was expected as of late last week, since spinoff storms were continuing and drainage canals in Dade and Palm Beach were overflowing.

Tropical Storm Gordon

reached Florida Nov. 14 after causing extensive damage and hundreds of deaths in Cuba and Haiti. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, after a preliminary investigation late last week, provided a somewhat less urgent view of the situation.

According to USDA's report, although there may be some harvest delays, much of the winter Florida vegetable crop can be salvaged. Much of the vegetable fields are still drying out.

"Reports are that most plants should recover," a USDA field report states, focusing on the southern Florida area of Homestead, a larger producer of peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, squash, cabbage and other vegetables.