For updated coverage the afternoon of Jan. 4, see Tomatoes spared, but Florida freezes keep prices high.

Florida’s governor is requesting federal disaster assistance to help growers after a series of December freezes devastated Florida growing regions.

State agriculture officials estimate the freezes, which struck south and central Florida growing regions in early, mid- and late December, caused $273 million in damage.

To help growers haul their crops to packing facilities, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services extended an executive order relaxing trucking restrictions through Jan. 7.

On Dec. 30, Gov. Charlie Crist requested that the U.S. Department of Agriculture designate 35 Florida counties as part of an emergency disaster declaration so growers can seek federal disaster assistance.

“The depth and breadth of the damage will continue to be seen in the days and weeks ahead,” Crist wrote. “In addition to the crops that were lost, there is likely to be quality issues for some of the crops that can be harvested.”

Early damage estimates — released before the Dec. 27-29 freezes — are pegged at $115 million in grower cash receipts with $273 million in total losses that include trucking and groceries, said Sarah Criser, a department deputy press secretary.

“Farmers are definitely taking proactive measures to try to salvage and preserve as much of their crop as possible,” she said Jan. 3. “They are doing as much as they can to get their crops to the production facilities so they can get them to supermarkets as well. This is definitely having an impact on Florida’s farmers but they are resilient and are bouncing back from it as quickly as possible.”

Criser said it was too early to tell how much losses growers sustained from the late December cold, which added more injury to central and south Florida tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers, as well as north Florida cabbage.

Nursery crops and tropical fish also sustained significant damage.

Early Florida freeze damage estimates near $300 million

File photo

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates crops sustained $273 million in damage, but that doesn't include damage from low temperatures just before the end of the year. In this file photo, Miguel Talavera, in farming operations for Palmetto-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.’s Immokalee operations, inspects mature green tomatoes Dec. 16.