Cold Snap Causes Little Added Damage to Already Hit Crops

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

Tallahassee, FL - Temperatures dropped to near freezing Wednesday morning in Florida’s citrus belt but didn’t get low enough to do substantial additional damage to an agricultural industry that took at least a $273 million hit from freezes earlier in December.

Temperatures in the central and southern part of the state were in the low 30s on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The near freezing temperatures will have some negative impact on the state’s fruit, vegetable and ornamental industries but less so than then an extended period of hard freezes in early December that caused at least $115 million in direct cash losses to growers.

“It's all anecdotal at this point but what I’m hearing is that in South Florida, especially, temperatures were not as low as predicted and that’s good news because the Dec. 7 freeze was tough,” said Barbara Wunder, spokeswoman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. “There wasn’t much left to damage in some places. I heard someone the other day say, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

A Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said the state was still assessing the latest damage. The state agency earlier released a preliminary estimate of at least $115 million in direct damage to Florida’s agricultural industry through Dec. 20, which followed the first stretch of sub-freezing temperatures. In addition, growers spent nearly $35 million in production costs and another $5 million to $10 million in efforts to protect fields and crops from the oncoming cold weather.

That doesn’t include this week’s cold weather, though, said DOACS spokeswoman Sarah Criser, who added that the figure is “preliminary and pretty conservative.”

Citrus can be damaged if exposed to temperatures below 28 degrees for at least four hours.

The $273 million figure takes into account businesses that rely on the state’s winter crops, including transportation and processing plants. The equivalent of 8,900 acres of produce was destroyed earlier this month.

Florida’s tomato and citrus crops appear to have weathered the freezes better than others. Shipments of citrus appeared relatively unchanged through December 20, state Agriculture officials noted. Tomato shipments were up from last year.

Other crops were harder hit. Florida’s cucumber crop was totally destroyed while eggplant production plummeted by 80 percent.

The freeze on Monday night of this week may further reduce the size of Florida's 2010/11 citrus harvest, though. The U.S. Agriculture Department on Dec. 10 lowered its forecast for the state's citrus crop to 143 million boxes, down from its October outlook of 146 million boxes. The next update for the crop will be released in the USDA's January supply-demand report.

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