(UPDATED COVERAGE, 1:30 p.m.) PLANT CITY, Fla. — Though damage estimates aren’t fully known yet, severe cold weather has harmed south Florida vegetable production and is sending vegetables prices skyrocketing — and the worst is yet to come.

Grower-shippers were assessing damages caused by freezing weather that struck the Sunshine State early in the week of Jan. 4. However, they say they are expecting arctic temperatures that are forecast to hit south Florida Jan. 8-10 to be the coldest nights and possibly cause more severe damage to their plants.

UPDATED: Florida freeze far from over

Doug Ohlemeier

Florida’s citrus crop survived severe temperatures that struck the state’s growing regions Jan. 4-6, but even lower temperatures are forecast for Jan. 8-10.

The evenings of Jan. 8-9 are expected to be the most damaging, said Jeff Stepanovich, a salesman for Florida Specialties Inc., Immokalee.

Stepanovich said freezing temperatures Jan. 4-5 caused scattered damage.

“We have picked some early as there will be a gap from that,” he said Jan. 7. “The bean deal will definitely have some issues for the next few weeks.”

Stepanovich quoted $20 f.o.b.s for cartons of bell pepper, compared to $5-6 the week before the cold snaps.

Green beans were $35 for cartons and crates on Jan. 7, up from $30-31 the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported earlier in the week, Stepanovich said.

Eggplant had jumped from $8-10 to $18.

“All the prices are reflective of what’s happening,” he said. “We can’t harvest anything, as there’s not enough heat. We will all hold our breath and see what happens.”

In Belle Glade, the hub of Florida’s winter corn deal, Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, said damage estimates haven’t arrived yet for Palm Beach County beans and corn.

“We saw frost outside of Belle Glade and lots of frost in town as well,” he said Jan. 7.

Stephen Miller, sales manager of J&J Ag Products Inc., Clewiston, said temperatures fell to 29 degrees for several hours on Jan. 4-5.

“I’m hearing we lost a bunch of beans and corn,” he said. “We don’t know all the details. We need to wait until it warms up before we pass judgment on this. I have seen where the beans looked damaged, but two to three days later, they had some green on them."

As of Jan. 7, it was hard to tell how much damage tomato crops had suffered, said Samantha Winters, director of education and promotion for the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee.

What was clear, Winters said, is that there has been some damage — and that there could be more soon.

"Most certainly there has been some fruit loss and bloom drop," she said. "We will not know anything for a while. At this point in time, our growers are bracing themselves for another expected freeze this weekend."

Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations for East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., said central Florida was finishing grape tomato pickings before the freezing weather hit.

He said East Coast is transitioning to Stuart for winter production.

“There is some damage, but we don’t know how bad yet,” Madonia said. “It’s hard to say.”

Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said the industry hasn’t received any reports of severe damage.

“Overall, there were no reports of extensive damage, which is good news, but some growers did have some problems,” she said. “There were some pockets in some parts of South Florida where the frost was particularly heavy west of the lake (Lake Okeechobee). It wasn't a hard freeze, but some corn and beans got hit pretty hard by the frost — we won't know the full extent for a few days.”

Andrew Meadows, Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual's director of communications, agreed that Jan. 6 was largely a repeat of Jan. 5.

But the industry is far from out of the woods, Meadows said.

“There were isolated pockets of damage across all citrus producing regions - some frozen fruit, twig and leaf damage,”  h e  said. “It was not a catastrophic event, but everyone is still anxious as we head into the weekend when another front moves through.”

The night of Jan. 6 was a near repeat of the night before, said David Mixon, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach., Fla. Temperatures dipped into the mid-20s in a few areas, but didn't stay there long enough to cause any significant damage.

“We were very fortunate again to be able to get through the night,” he said. “An hour longer and we would have been in deep trouble.”

Though temperatures in the mid- to high-20s were recorded in strawberry-growing regions the night of Jan. 6, they didn't stay that low long enough to cause significant damage, and winds stayed fairly calm, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, Fla.

“There were no major problems to report,” he said Jan. 7.

Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this story.