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Florida growers brace for cold snap

by Christina DiMartino | January 21, 2009
Florida produce growers were taking precautionary measures to try to protect their crops as a cold snap descended upon the Sunshine State the week of Jan. 19.

At the Florida Strawberry Association's office in Dover, FL, the temperature at 7:30 in the morning Jan. 21 was recorded at just under 27 degrees.

"Our growers use the Florida Automated Weather Network to determine all the critical factors and to receive both warnings and scientific basis for when to take action," Ted Campbell, executive director of the association, told The Produce News Jan. 21. "Growers are engaging in heavy harvesting in anticipation of the cold to come so the fruit on the bushes is not subjected to too much damage."

Mr. Campbell said that growers got through the first night of the cold front by harvesting all possible fruit and by watering the plants in the morning and again at night.

Watering will cause the plants to be damp on Thursday, Jan. 22, which slows berry growth. The weather forecast on Wednesday called for rain in the coming days, followed by warmer weather. By Sunday, growers expected to be picking again.

Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland, FL, said that the association was prepared to issue a press release regarding other Florida crops suffering damage due to the frigid temperatures the morning of Jan. 21.

"But since there was no damage [reported], we decided not to send it out," said Ms. Lochridge.

"It was plenty cold last night, and everyone ran their water systems for mitigation," Mr. Campbell said. "We'll have another cold night tonight, and then we can assess the outcome. There are many factors involved from the dew point to the wind velocity to cloud cover. It's one more sleepless night for the growers. But 75 degree temperatures are forecast for the coming weekend."

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration issued a hazardous weather outlook for most of southern Florida, except for the southeast coast. The report stated that temperatures would likely fall below freezing early on Thursday morning across most of the mainland in south Florida, dropping to the mid- to upper 20s in the northwest interior and to the low to mid-40s along the southeast coast.

"Interests should anticipate the possibility of freezing temperatures and be prepared to take necessary steps to protect tender vegetation," the report noted.

The Produce News will continue to monitor weather and crop condition updates in the coming days on its web site,