January 21, 2010

Florida Ag Chief tours freeze-ravaged growing areas

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Calling damage to Florida growing areas substantial, Florida agriculture commissioner Charles Bronson said every south Florida field he has visited was hit hard by the freeze in early to mid-January.

Bronson, who on Jan. 20 toured production areas in Homestead, Belle Glade and Immokalee, said produce shipments are down significantly and said the state’s growers will likely sustain hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

"The salvage numbers are not good," Bronson said. "It will be pretty bad. This week, we are at about 40% of where we were in shipments this time of the year last year.

So we know how much damage that has caused us. The question is how much more will manifest itself when we get to the end of it as warm weather will show more damage."

Bronson said his agency isn’t able to release a final damage figure yet, adding that his office is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies and grower groups to determine a final estimate for requesting federal disaster assistance.

For the sake of the farmers who had millions invested in their crop and for their workers who were counting on this work as their jobs, I was hoping for more salvage than what I was able to see," he said visiting a field north of Immokalee that grows mature-greens and roma tomatoes for West Coast Tomato Inc., Palmetto. That field sustained 100% loss, said D.C. McClure, West Coast Tomato’s vice president, farm manager and owner.

"Everything with fruit set was hurt hard," he said. "The young plants have better survivability. We lost every tomato that was on a stake one foot or taller. Everything’s gone. It’s hard to find anything left."McClure said the freeze made tomatoes as hard as blocks of ice and turned their insides to mush upon slicing.

The 800-acre field was the middle of harvest when the coldest temperatures hit and remained below freezing for up to eight hours during the early morning hours of Jan. 11.Belle Glade, which grows sweet corn and green beans, sustained high losses and damage depends on the maturity of the crop, said Dan Sleep, a senior analyst with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ division of marketing."Some younger plants were wiped out," he said.

Those corn growers are "writing their crop off," according to Bronson, who said, "They’re done. Even if it was close to being salvageable, the sugar content turned to starch." Though a higher percentage of vegetables grown in Homestead should be salvageable, Bronson said the cold severely damaged tomatoes and corn, beans and to a lesser extent, the region’s squash.

He said the worst tomato damage he viewed was in the Immokalee area.

In an early estimate, Florida tomato industry officials on Jan. 18 pegged Immokalee-area damage at 70%.

Though Homestead produces small volumes, Immokalee remains Florida’s primary tomato-producing region January through March.

Published on 01/20/2010 08:31pm By Doug Ohlemeier- The Packer Online

1 comment:

  1. westenfarmsJanuary 31, 2010

    This has hurt the cattle farms as well
    95% of my grazing land was hit by the freeze and killed the grass
    forcing me to purchase additional feed and it is difficult to find good hay
    way above and way beyond a normal year
    will there be any support for us for feed as well as new seed to replant our grazing lands?