Florida growers tally strawberry, tomato losses

01/14/2008 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier


Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, Fla., views some bell peppers south of Immokalee after a freeze in early January sent temperatures into the low to mid-20s in central and south Florida.

(Jan. 14) Fla. — Florida strawberries and tomatoes suffered the heaviest damage after an early January freeze struck the state’s central and southern growing regions, with the Immokalee tomato crop seeing a possible 70% loss.

In the week after the Jan. 3 freeze — which sent freezing winds whipping through the fields and burning or scarring fruit — growers were busy assessing damages.

“It looks like some of our Immokalee (tomatoes) will be a total loss,” said Jaime Weisinger, director of sales and purchasing for Custom Pak, a part of Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., said Jan. 8.

“We may be able to salvage some out of them, but it could be a total loss,” he said. “It wasn’t just the cold that hurt everything. It was the wind as well. When it’s that cold and you get the wind on the bushes, it really has an adverse affect on them.”

Florida is the major winter U.S. supplier of strawberries and tomatoes.

IMMOKALEE, PLANT CITY HIT HARDER

Damages were most significant in the Immokalee and Plant City areas, growers reported. Temperatures ranged from the low to mid-20s in Plant City and the high 20s in the Immokalee and Devil’s Garden growing regions.

Immokalee may have lost as much as 60% to 70% of the tomatoes the region had planned to harvest, Weisinger said. The state’s overall tomato crop likely suffered 20% losses, he said.

Weisinger and Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said they expect a huge bloom drop to manifest itself in mid-February after a dehydrating wind beat up the plants’ foliage.

Homestead, which along with Immokalee and Naples ships most of Florida’s winter tomatoes, primarily suffered bloom damage, Brown said. A majority of Florida’s tomatoes are shipped December through May. Homestead packing normally ends in April, while Immokalee and Naples run through May.

In early estimates, Florida’s strawberry growers lost 38% or $4.7 million worth of their early January pickings compared to the previous season’s weekly pickings. That’s higher than the initial 10% to 20% loss, said Shawn Crocker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover.


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