Cold slows Florida peppers, zaps squash volume

01/28/2003 12:00:00 AM
Tracy Rosselle

(Jan. 28) Florida growers continue to assess damage to their crops from the Jan. 23-24 freeze.

Considering temperatures plunged into the mid-20s in some growing regions, the state’s bounty of fruits and vegetables appears to have escaped without major losses.

Southern vegetables — bell pepper, snap beans, cucumbers, squash, eggplant — for the most part sustained spotty and fairly light damage, said Wade Purvis, production manager for Immokalee, Fla.-based Pacific Collier Fresh Co.

“The problem has come more from the extended period of cold temperatures,” Purvis said. “It’s affecting the timing. It has pushed everything back.”

Pepper transplants usually take 100 days to harvest, but a lack of warmth over the last two months has delayed that schedule to 120 -125 days, he said.

Because of their intolerance for low temperatures, cucurbits — cucumbers and what few watermelons were still around in south Florida — were hurt most by the recent cold snap, Purvis said, noting also that squash continues to be in generally short supply because of the lack of warmth.

“This cold weather is going to translate into light volume on squash right on through,” he said.

Others suggested the damage to items like bell pepper won’t be known for a couple of weeks. David Segui, a salesman for Boca Raton, Fla.-based Rosemont Farms Corp., said growers used row covers but some blew off in windy conditions. Younger pepper plants were hit hardest, he said.

Consequently, buyers could begin seeing suntanned pepper in coming weeks if it isn’t graded out properly, Segui said.

“Some people grade better than others,” he said. “Those who do a good job, it’ll hurt their yields. Those who don’t do a good job, it’ll hurt their quality.”

A salesman for Pahokee, Fla.-based Hugh H. Branch Inc. said leafy items and what little sweet corn that’s left in the Glades region escaped the cold entirely. Most of the sweet corn harvest is coming from much farther south in the Homestead area, anyway.

Florida strawberry growers, meanwhile, said they sustained perhaps a 5% to 10% loss from the Jan. 23-24 freeze. They should grow out of that damage within three weeks.



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