Plaquemines Parish citrus farmers prepare for Orange Fest

A citrus farm destroyed by Hurricane Isaac
A citrus farm destroyed by Hurricane Isaac

This weekend is the 66th Annual Orange Festival in Plaquemines Parish. But getting fruit to the festival isn't as easy as it may seem, after many citrus crops were wiped out during Hurricane Isaac.

90 percent of Ben Becnel's citrus crop was wiped out by Isaac.  Fast forward two months, and Becnel is now Orange King of Plaquemines Parish.  It's a title that means he rules over this weekend's festival.

"Anybody who sees you wants to bow down to you and I say man, don't do that," Becnel jokes.

To this farmer, the role of king is about so much more than just a festival. Becnel is trying to spread the word that citrus farmers in the parish are still struggling after Isaac.

Showing off some of his fruit, Becnel explains, "The hurricane hurt these oranges so bad, swinging in the tree, the ones that did not fall off, it keeps them from getting a good color on the side that was bruised."

The small amount that did survive the storm is good to eat.  He explains, "The fruit is safe and I even find that it got matured as far as the sugar a little bit earlier this year."

The problem is, there's just not as much of it to go around now.

Before Hurricane Isaac hit, Becnel was shipping off oranges to different parts of the country. Now he's having to turn down orders, which means he's losing thousands of dollars a week.

According to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, Becnel isn't alone, saying, "Some of the farmers were still recovering from past storms, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.  So we weren't back 100 percent and then we get hit with this one."

Nungesser says the Orange Festival is a great opportunity for people to come out and support Plaquemines Parish farmers affected by the storm. "Anything you can make with an orange, you'll find here, any kind of sauce, wine, so it's pretty unique and really good tasting," the parish president said.

The Orange Festival will be held at Fort Jackson in Buras.  A band kicks things off Friday night at 6 and the festival runs through Sunday.