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Mature ferns in central Florida that were scheduled for harvest for Valentine's Day suffered losses due to a prolonged bout of freezing weather in early January, but at least some growers got away with losses of only 20-30 percent, according to David Register, vice president and director of operations for FernTrust.

"We can fulfill our Valentine's Day orders," he said in a phone interview with The Produce News Jan. 8. "We lost less than 30 percent of our mature ferns, but 50 to 70 percent of our immature crop that would have been harvested after Valentine's Day has been damaged or destroyed. Prices will be going up any day now."

The difficult period will be from February to the end of April, according to Mr. Register, until a new crop of ferns can mature. "We'll probably bring ferns and foliage in from other growing areas, and use more miscellaneous products such as plumose and tree fern," he said. "This January freeze is a tough hit, but we'll get through it."

FernTrust, a grower cooperative in Seville, FL, with 300 acres of ferns under shade cloth, used its sprinkler system to create ice on the shade cloths that largely protected mature ferns from the freeze. "It is like covering them with an igloo," he said. In a letter to customers, the firm said that these protective measures cost $2,000 per night.

Another prominent Florida fern grower also noted heavy losses of immature ferns. "We have lost at least 60-70 percent of our young crop," Erik Hagstrom, sales representative for Albin Hagstrom & Son Inc., with 500 acres in production in Pierson, FL, said Jan. 11. Established in 1928, the firm also uses overhead sprinklers to prevent frost damage.