Freeze causes limited damage to Florida crops; tomatoes uncertain

01/04/2012 04:35:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Initial reports show the season’s first freeze causing some damage to Florida’s bell peppers, squash and green beans.

Wish FarmsFlorida strawberry growers protected their berries by spraying irrigation, which form ice domes over the berries, like these berries at Wish Farms in Plant City, Fla. Growers expected to run the irrigation another night during the early morning hours of Jan. 5. Tomato growers say it’s too early to tell how the cold temperatures harmed tomatoes during the late night hours of Jan. 3 and early morning hours of Jan. 4.

Other items, such as citrus and strawberries, escaped serious harm, early reports show.

Weather authorities are forecasting another night of freezing temperatures for the overnight hours of Jan. 4. 

The National Weather Service is posting freeze warnings for central Florida, including the Plant City, Fla., strawberry growing region where overnight temperatures are forecast to hit 29 degrees. There are frost advisories for south Florida.

Temperatures that fell into the mid- to upper 20s in Immokalee, the state’s winter hub for tomatoes, bell peppers and squash, wiped out some older squash fields and caused minimal damage to peppers, said Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

Lytch said L&M was transitioning to Homestead, Fla., for squash production and that younger bell peppers look strong.

“On pepper, the younger stuff looks pretty good,” he said Jan. 4. “ ... For the next three to four weeks, everything should be business as usual. Starting in early February, we could see some product being shorter.”

Gene McAvoyFreezes in December 2010 damaged this bell pepper field near Immokalee, Fla. Grower-shippers report a Jan. 4 freeze harming Florida bell peppers, squash, green beans and corn, with early damage estimates for tomatoes remaining uncertain. Growers may take a week to assess damage caused to south Florida green beans and squash, said Jodie Johnson, a salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., Homestead.

“I didn’t see any frozen product, but the vines got hurt pretty bad in places,” he said. “There will be a drop in yield and in quality, with wind-scarred and beat-up product. A lot of product will go in the garbage because quality won’t be good enough.”

Jaime Weisinger, director of community and government relations for Immokalee-based Lipman, said it is too early to tell the cold weather’s effect on tomatoes. Tomato production in January and February remains centered in southwest Florida and the Homestead, Fla., regions.

Gene McAvoy, regional vegetable and horticultural extension agent in LaBelle, Fla., said older tomatoes suffered top burn while the freeze badly damaged older green beans though many younger plantings fared well.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” McAvoy said. “It’s nothing like we had in the past few years.”

Temperatures hit the mid-20s in Belle Glade, Fla., the packing hub of the state’s winter sweet corn and green beans, which see production primarily in Homestead in January and February.


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