As Gustav Storms Through, Growers Brace For Ike

As Gustav Storms Through, Growers Brace For Ike

Most growers along the Gulf Coast breathed a sigh of relief after Hurricane Gustav passed through on Labor Day without causing major damage to their structures or crops. Now, those same growers are preparing for a hurricane all over again–this time in the form of Ike–and hoping it makes landfall as far away from their greenhouses as possible.

“We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best with Gustav,” says Rudolph Hall, co-owner of Rocky Creek Nursery in Lucedale, Miss.

Louisiana growers did the same yet weren’t as fortunate as those in Mississippi. Robert Dupont Jr., president of Dupont Nursery who was reached by phone Monday, reports his operation in Plaquemine, La., will be closed for business for at least three weeks. Dupont, located about 15 miles south of Baton Rouge, has structural damage to all nine of its houses.

“Benches are turned over, and about 30 to 40 percent of our plants are no good. We didn’t lose any flooding, but we did lose quit a bit of plumbing. Right now, we’re not going to try to fix anything.”

Why sit? Because Ike is closing in on the Gulf Coast, and like Hall at Rocky Creek Nursery, Dupont Jr. is prepared for the worst. Dupont Nursery has replaced three roofs, and two of its most important items–poinsettias and Cajun hibiscus–were spared because they were moved into a warehouse. Now, those plants are sitting on benches under Dupont’s replacement roofs, but Dupont Jr. expects to know by Wednesday whether they need to be shuttled back into the warehouse.

Until then, like some other growers in its region, they are in demolition mode.

“This is absolutely the worst damage we’ve ever had,” says Robert Dupont Jr., president of Dupont Nursery. “We lose two houses during Hurricane Andrew. We have nice houses and they’re all damaged. A lot of our plants were destroyed by wind; a lot of them rotted because they didn’t get water. Some of them got waterlogged because of constant rain.”

Bracy’s Nursery in Amite, La., located about an hour northeast of Baton Rouge, did not sustain any significant damage. Bracy’s Sales Manager Hugh McGill, however, says he’s heard of more than a few growers who were without power–and may still be without it.

“The major thing now is getting that power so they can water things,” he says. “This was a very wet storm. Gustav ran into a high-pressure line that really kept it from vacating Louisiana quickly. After the storm, we called some grower neighbors and most of them are doing well. There are a couple growers in New Orleans who had some infrastructure problems where greenhouse roofs might have caved in.”

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reports similar damage across the state. The wholesale nursery crop loss, at this point, might be in the $5 million range.

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