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Florida crops withstand the bitter cold

By John Couwels, CNN
  • NEW: Corn and bean crops wiped out in areas of southwest Florida
  • Citrus crops emerged mostly intact
  • Tuesday night's conditions could be frosty as well
  • Farmers can't yet estimate the damage to their crops for the month of December

Orlando, Florida (CNN) -- Florida's winter fruit and vegetable crops appear to have survived freezing temperatures overnight with not too much damage, industry officials said Tuesday.

"Overall, growers fared well since the temperatures were not as low as predicted," Lisa Lochridge, of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said of Monday night's bitter cold.

Southwest Florida saw the lowest temperature dip, with the mercury falling into the upper 20s, causing scattered damage to green beans, peppers and tomato plants.

Corn and bean crops that survived last week's cold snap were wiped out in Hendry County, said County Extension Director Gene McAvoy.

"Row covers and irrigating were less effective due to the wind," he explained.

The high winds Monday night helped keep frost from forming on some plants, but it might have caused further damage to the more sensitive plants, like green beans, following last week's frosty conditions.

Farmers in southwest Florida reported winds of 60 mph, said Lochridge.

Citrus farmers said their crops survived relatively unscathed Monday night, she added, but growers can't let down their guard yet.

"Our fingers are crossed for tonight, but the good thing is, there's not going to be any wind, which is perfect for irrigation," said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents about 8,000 citrus growers.

Weather conditions for Tuesday night will likely be a repeat of Monday, with frosty conditions expected over most of the state. Temperatures should start warming up Wednesday, and could reach the mid- to high 40s by Thursday, according to CNN Meteorologist Angela Fritz.

Lochridge said it will be several days before farmers know the full extent of possible damage the unseasonably cold temperatures may have caused to their crops.

Meadows estimates the citrus industry generates more than $9 billion in economic activity in the state.

CNN's Vivian Kuo contributed to this report