Freeze causes limited damage to Florida crops; tomatoes uncertain

01/04/2012 04:35:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Initial reports show the season’s first freeze causing some damage to Florida’s bell peppers, squash and green beans.

Wish FarmsFlorida strawberry growers protected their berries by spraying irrigation, which form ice domes over the berries, like these berries at Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla. Growers expected to run the irrigation another night during the early morning hours of Jan. 5. Tomato growers say it’s too early to tell how the cold temperatures harmed tomatoes during the late night hours of Jan. 3 and early morning hours of Jan. 4.

Other items, such as citrus and strawberries, escaped serious harm, early reports show.

Weather authorities are forecasting another night of freezing temperatures for the overnight hours of Jan. 4. 

The National Weather Service is posting freeze warnings for central Florida, including the Plant City, Fla., strawberry growing region where overnight temperatures are forecast to hit 29 degrees. There are frost advisories for south Florida.

Temperatures that fell into the mid- to upper 20s in Immokalee, the state’s winter hub for tomatoes, bell peppers and squash, wiped out some older squash fields and caused minimal damage to peppers, said Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

Lytch said L&M was transitioning to Homestead, Fla., for squash production and that younger bell peppers look strong.

“On pepper, the younger stuff looks pretty good,” he said Jan. 4. “ ... For the next three to four weeks, everything should be business as usual. Starting in early February, we could see some product being shorter.”

Gene McAvoyFreezes in December 2010 damaged this bell pepper field near Immokalee, Fla. Grower-shippers report a Jan. 4 freeze harming Florida bell peppers, squash, green beans and corn, with early damage estimates for tomatoes remaining uncertain. Growers may take a week to assess damage caused to south Florida green beans and squash, said Jodie Johnson, a salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead.

“I didn’t see any frozen product, but the vines got hurt pretty bad in places,” he said. “There will be a drop in yield and in quality, with wind-scarred and beat-up product. A lot of product will go in the garbage because quality won’t be good enough.”

Jaime Weisinger, director of community and government relations for Immokalee-based Lipman, said it is too early to tell the cold weather’s effect on tomatoes. Tomato production in January and February remains centered in southwest Florida and the Homestead, Fla., regions.

Gene McAvoy, regional vegetable and horticultural extension agent in LaBelle, Fla., said older tomatoes suffered top burn while the freeze badly damaged older green beans though many younger plantings fared well.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” McAvoy said. “It’s nothing like we had in the past few years.”

Temperatures hit the mid-20s in Belle Glade, Fla., the packing hub of the state’s winter sweet corn and green beans, which see production primarily in Homestead in January and February.

Paul Allen, vice president and co-owner of Pahokee, Fla.-based R.C. Hatton Farms, said most of the vegetable crops planted away from Lake Okeechobee sustained some damage with those planted near the lake escaping injury. He estimated 300 acres of the region’s 2,500 winter corn and bean acres likely sustained damage. 

Citrus growers largely survived, said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland.

“There was some damage in low-lying areas and in cold pockets,” he said Jan. 4. “It hit the mid- to low-20s in some areas but for not long enough duration. The Indian River region came through well with low 30s reported. Statewide, there are a few reports of cut ice in fruit and some leaf damage but it’s not widespread.”

Strawberry growers ran their sprinkler systems throughout the night to form ice domes that protect their berries.

Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said growers didn’t experience significant damage.



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