In advance of an expected cold snap, a helicopter flies low over a field to push warmer air closer to the ground. Photo courtesy of Bret Erickson of J&D Produce.

Cold, wet weather hampered harvesting in Texas the first week of January and growers are assessing whether below-freezing temperatures caused damage to crops.

“This morning temperatures at our farms dropped down to as low as 29 in some areas,” Bret Erickson, director of business development for Edinburg, Texas-based J&D Produce, said Jan. 4. “We experienced several hours of at- or below-freezing temps along with quite a bit of frost. Temperatures are quickly rebounding back to about 60 this afternoon and as temperatures come up, we’ll start to be able to see how much damage we have. 

“It won’t be a matter of if we’ll have damage, it will be a matter of how widespread and how severe,” Erickson said.

Numerous companies hustled to prepare crops, said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association.

J&D Produce was among that group.

“Our farm managers have been working overtime the last few days preparing for this cold blast, including lots of watering to try and keep ground temperatures up, physically covering some of our more valuable items, placing special heaters in some fields, and even flying helicopters over our celery fields during the coldest hours of the morning to try and move the warmer air just above the ground’s surface down to ground level to help us gain a couple of degrees at field level,” Erickson said Jan. 3.

Trevor Stuart, salesman for Edinburg-based Frontera Produce, said Jan. 3 that the company had been harvesting as much product as possible in expectation of the cold blast, but the weather — including some ice buildup on crops — hindered the process, delaying the usual harvesting start time from 7 a.m. to noon on one day.

“It hasn’t stopped us, but it’s definitely slowed us down,” Stuart said.

He did not expect too much damage to cabbage from the low temperatures, describing the crop as fairly hardy, but said the cold could persist through the end of the week.

 

Southeast

Florida strawberry growers used frost protection measures Jan. 3 and didn’t expect significant damage to the crop.

“The reports that I got were that it did drop below freezing, between 26 and 30 degrees and 27 and 28 degrees in the Dover area,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, on Jan. 4.

Growers began irrigation about 2 a.m.

“Other than losing sleep, it was a pretty routine evening,” Lochridge said. “Given that it will be a slow warmup and fairly cool days over the next three to four days, they feel like everything is good.”

Georgia was also seeing low temperatures, down to the mid-20s overnight, said Sloan Lott, sales manager for Glennville, Ga.-based Bland Farms. The area had also gotten a few inches of snow. During the day, however, the temperatures have bounced back into the 40s in the afternoons.

Because the onions in Georgia are in their dormant stage, and  the snow acts as an insulation over the ground, those should be okay, Lott said.

Having the temperatures rise in the afternoons “helps tremendously,” he said.

 

Mexico

Numerous regions in Mexico also had low temperatures in the forecast.

“Many of the states expecting the cold weather have zones producing fresh fruits and vegetables, like Tamaulipas, which will have onions that are nearing full maturity and harvest,” Galeazzi said Jan. 3. “The commodity, duration of the cold, and (the) state of maturity will really determine the amount and type of damages. Things like leaf or tip burn, internal freeze damage or external skin burns are possible. Even worse could be the freeze kills not just the fruit, but the entire tree or plant. 

“Many times, it’s hard to tell the full extent of the damages until a few days or a few weeks after the weather event,” Galeazzi said. “There’s going to be a lot of growers busy taking precautionary measures to do what they can to mitigate cold damage all this week.”

Bland Farms will be harvesting onions from Mexico in mid-January, but Lott said Jan. 4 the company had not seen any weather updates that concerned them too much, though steps could be taken to fight the cold if needed.

Several companies harvesting product from other regions in Mexico also had yet to encounter troublesome weather.

Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales for River Edge, N.J.-based Vision Import Group, said cool temperatures and rain have slowed harvesting of limes, but he expected fruit would size up as a result of those conditions. That product is sourced from the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Michoacan, he said.

Michael Castagnetto, vice president of global sourcing for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh, also noted that light rain has slowed harvesting of limes in Veracruz but that availability of supplies had not been interrupted. The same was the case for papayas from Colima.

He said avocados from Michoacan and pineapples from Veracruz have also not been affected by cooler weather.

Robinson Fresh also sources dry vegetables from Sinaloa and Sonora, and neither of those areas are reporting issues, he said.

“The only possible concern is if Florida’s cold snap will put additional pressure on the Mexican market to make up the difference for what might potentially be lost in a freeze or snow in Florida,” Castagnetto said.

Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates had not seen cold affecting its Mexico crops, most of which are coming from Culiacan, salesman Manny Gerardo said Jan. 3.

Brian Bernauer, director of operations and sales for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers, said Jan. 3 that weather was not expected to affect tomatoes in Culiacan.

Mangoes also appeared to have dodged any low-temperature danger.

Angela Serna, communications manager for the National Mango Board, said growers didn’t expect the cold front to affect the production areas of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Michoacan.

Nissa Pierson, who manages sales and marketing for the mango program at Rio Rico, Ariz.-based RCF Distributors, also said that mangoes should not be affected.

 
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