Strawberry crop losses double since first reports

01/17/2008 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier


These strawberries near Dover, Fla., were protected by ice formed after growers sprayed water on their fields during the night to protect the berries from an early January freeze that sent temperatures into the low 20s. In mid-January, Florida strawberry growers reported damage of twice the original estimates.

(Jan. 17) IMMOKALEE, Fla. — The early January freeze could severely limit Immokalee’s winter tomato shipments, slowing movement into March, and Florida strawberry growers will likely miss out on some Valentine’s Day promotions.

In mid January, growers were able to provide clearer estimates of potential losses from a Jan. 3 freeze that damaged Florida’s strawberries and tomatoes.

The freeze could stop Florida’s strawberry growers from hitting the Valentine’s Day push as strawberry growers doubled their earlier reported losses.

Buyers should expect lighter supplies of Immokalee-area tomatoes from late January through March, shippers said.

The state supplies a majority of strawberries and tomatoes to U.S. buyers during the winter.

Immokalee and other south Florida growing regions supply the state’s winter tomato production. The Immokalee area could have lost up to half of its tomatoes on some of its fields, said Larry Lipman, chief executive officer of Six L’s Packing Co. Inc.

“You will definitely have a two-week period of almost no or very light supplies,” he said Jan. 16. “Two weeks from now, supplies will start dropping quickly from what they would normally have been in the Immokalee area. There will be very little or very, very light supplies until mid-March, when it will start to pick up.”

For strawberries, Plant City-area growers lost $9.5 million in sales, up from a $4.7 million reported loss comparing the same pickings to last season, said Shawn Crocker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover.

Strawberry growers, which normally pick more than a million flats a week during early and mid-January, picked an average 34% fewer flats after the freeze stunted many of their berries, Crocker said.

“When you think catastrophe, you think of 100% plant loss, where you don’t have any opportunity to recover,” he said. “We will be able to recover, but volume will occur when our window is over, when California comes in.”


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