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Florida growers: Crops survived cold snap

An irrigation truck pumps water over a green-bean field to protect the plants in Homestead, Florida.
An irrigation truck pumps water over a green-bean field to protect the plants in Homestead, Florida.

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LAKELAND, Florida (CNN) -- Florida growers were hopeful on Friday that an overnight cold snap that threatened to put the squeeze on their crops had not been as damaging as expected.

Parts of the Eastern Seaboard have been plunged into record cold temperatures, with freeze warnings extending as far south as the Florida Keys, putting the state's fruit and winter vegetable crops at risk. (Full story)

In Florida, the most severe temperatures were north of Interstate 4, where "the majority of the citrus had already been harvested," Casey Pace, spokeswoman for Florida Citrus Mutual said.

"The rest of the state fared very well," Pace said.

In Immokalee, a major growing area for citrus and tomatoes, temperatures bottomed out around 30 degrees at 6:30 a.m., Pace said. To have significant citrus damage, the temperature must drop below 28 degrees and stay there for four hours.

Tomatoes are the largest vegetable crop in Florida and the state is the largest fresh tomato producer in the country, said Florida Tomato Committee director Reggie Brown.

The areas where the bulk of the crop is grown -- in the southeastern part of the state -- "barely reached freezing or did not even reach freezing last night," Brown said.

"In the other major (tomato) production area, around Immokalee, we did see some freezing temperatures but they were of short duration and we believe caused only minor injury to the crop," he said.

"We shouldn't have a major problem tonight," Brown said.

It's still too early to tell if Florida's strawberry crop fared as well as the citrus and vegetable crops, said Ila Allen of the Florida Strawberry Growers Assoc.

"We're still actually in the middle of protecting our crop right now. Water is still running. We're still at 28 degrees," said Allen, speaking from the Plant City and Dover area where 98 percent of the state's crop is grown.

Garet Hohenberger in Waverly loads a trailer with citrus, part of the effort to get the fruit off many trees in Florida.
Garet Hohenberger in Waverly loads a trailer with citrus, part of the effort to get the fruit off many trees in Florida.

"We have to keep a constant flow of water, so that it is constantly freezing and thawing" and in the process the "heat of fusion" keeps the berries warm, she said.

The wind was a complicating factor Thursday night because it prevented an even flow of water over the crop, causing "dry spots" where the fruit was vulnerable to the cold, Allen said.

The Strawberry Growers spokeswoman said low temperatures are expected for Friday night in the area, which is about 18 miles east of Orlando.

It may be Saturday before the fields can thaw enough for growers to inspect for damage, Allen said.

"Overall, it could have been a lot worse than it was," she said. "We've got some people who are a little more relieved than they were last night."


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