December 15, 2010

12/15/10 Freeze Report

Early this morning and overnight, several locations across Florida, saw all-time record lows. Jacksonville broke a 50-year record low Tuesday morning, when the mercury dropped to 21 degrees, breaking the old record of 25 set in 1962. Orlando dipped to a frigid 31 degrees, breaking its record low of 33 set in 1968.

The cold snap didn't end there, as it extended its mitts as far south as Miami, where the mercury has fallen to a bone-chilling 34 degrees.

A long withstanding record of 35 degrees has been broken, which was set 66 years ago in 1944.

Following is a freeze update as it affected Florida’s agricultural community.

Temps around Tampa Bay dropped below freezing early Wednesday and strawberry farmers reported signs of crop damage. The owners are more worried about damage from Tuesday's cold temperatures, when the wind was stronger, inhibiting the ice from forming its protective cover on the strawberries. This week's freezing temperatures halted the ripening of berries and production is down about 60 percent. In a normal year, Fancy Farm produces a half-million flats of berries. One flat contains eight 1-pound containers. It will be a couple days before they can determine the losses at this 210-acre operation.

Carl Grooms, Fancy Farms

Overall, Florida’s growers fared much worse last night than Monday night. Coupled with last week’s freeze, last night’s colder temperatures left many growers in South Florida with significant damage. Lows in Belle Glade were reported as low as 25. Helicopters were sent up around 9 to 10 p.m. to fly over corn crops, but they were called down not long afterward. Much of the more mature sweet corn was lost, although younger plants may have fared better in some areas. Leafy greens were icy, and yield will be affected. Tomatoes and peppers in Southwest Florida were left with significant damage, although tomato growers will be assessing the full extent of the loss in the coming days. The lack of wind helped strawberry growers get good freeze-protection coverage with irrigation, although temperatures as low as 21 will affect the bloom, producing gaps in volume in the coming weeks.

Lisa Lochridge, FFVA

Temperatures across the west-central Florida area remained at or below freezing for most of Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. The overnight low at the Plant City State Farmers’ Market was 28 degrees. A vast majority of the local growers used spray water irrigation to provide a thin coat of ice to the local strawberry plants to seal out the harsher temperatures. As of 8:00 AM, many of the farms were still running their water pumps and temperatures were just above freezing. Reports from local farmers indicated they were optimistic their crops escaped any real damage, but said it would take more time to assess all their crops. Calls to local growers went unanswered, but a report later in the day after they have had an opportunity to review their crops should be forthcoming. Font size

Michael C. Tucker, Plant City State Farmers Market

Putnam County/St Johns County Area: Cabbage looks pretty good. Some of the mixed greens were a little wilted down. The freeze could have hurt the younger cabbage transplants and mixed greens, it’s still too early to tell. Local growers will be assessing damages thru the rest of the week. Temperatures dipped to a low of 22 degrees last night in the East Palatka area, with 10 to 12 hours of freezing temperatures.

Terry Driggers, Palatka State Farmers' Market

Early estimates have tomatoes and vegetables suffering significant damage from a second night of freezing weather that struck south Florida growing regions. The region’s tomatoes suffered extensive damage after subfreezing temperatures struck the region during the early morning hours of Dec. 15. “We have had some pretty significant damage, it’s not quite as bad as last year I would say, but a lot of the older stuff was frozen out. Some of the younger tomatoes, growers were able to protect with irrigation. Most of the tomatoes within 10 days of harvest are pretty much frozen.” Growers were able to save some of the very young plants where they were able to create a little microclimate protecting the plants. Immokalee-area tomatoes generally begin harvesting in late November and ramp up in volume in December as central Florida production typically finish by Christmas.

Last night was much colder than the previous night with temps below freezing for 6 hours or more in many places. We had significant damage to vegetables around SW Florida with a number of tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash and other vegetable fields killed or severely frozen back. Not as bad as last year's freeze (in most cases - although some growers were hit just as hard) as in a number of fields the plants had only had the tops frozen but plants should survive and produce a crop depending on weather over the next few weeks. Survival in younger plants seemed to be higher than in more mature plants approaching harvest.

Damage was higher in Glades, Hendry and areas east of Immokalee, less west and south of Immokalee and in the Naples area but all areas saw significant damage to vegetable crops.

Corn and beans hit very hard in SW Florida and around Belle Glade. Some slight damage to citrus reported but citrus seems to have done pretty well. Sugar cane was injured and will suffer some yield reduction and some loss of plant cane. We will have a better idea in a few days.

Unfortunately many smaller/medium size growers are going to be hurt badly as this is the 3rd year in a row for major losses to freezes and some have no credit left and owe millions.

Gene McAvoy, IFAS, Hendry County, LaBelle

Pioneer (corn/green beans) reported that Belle Glade is a total loss, devastated. Homestead area has been compromised “big time”, they just don’t know how bad yet. No good assessment until the crops start thawing out and they can see if they get re-growth. Some numbers/percentages on the Homestead damage by Friday or Saturday. The thought was that it was so cold that the choppers probably didn’t do a whole lot of good.

JD Poole, Pioneer

Immokalee area the temps were below freezing by 9:30 last night and stayed that way until about 8:00 this morning with a low of 25. I feel confident that damage will be significant.

Jerry Hubbart, Immokalee State Farmers’ Market

Watercress volume is really light now because of freeze and will be for the next several weeks. Their volume has been cut in half due to freeze. Last night they were in the low-mid 20’s at the farm. Rain coming will both help and hurt – some of their crops need the rain others will suffer more damage from the rain.

Andy Brown, B&W Growers

Homestead/Florida City temperatures in some areas dropped to the high 20’s (26°- 32°) with 3-4 mph winds. There will be frost damage to beans, squash and zucchini but it is too soon to determine at this time. Overhead irrigation was used early this morning in most fields and can still in use at 8:30 a.m.

Paul Cardwell, FL City State Farmers Market


We’re going to have spotty citrus damage. Though temps stayed around the same for the second night, we are cutting more ice in fruit. Grower observations are that we have ice in Valencias down south and in other varieties in central FL. Citrus is in the most danger when temperatures stay below 28 degrees at night for more than four hours.

Shannon Shepp, Division of Fruit & Veg.

The citrus trees weren’t damaged but the insides of the fruit resemble a Slurpee so they won’t be fresh market, instead they will be used for juice.

Steve Crump, Vo-Lasalle Farms, Volusia County

Uncle Matt's production team worked overnight to protect over 1,000 acres of organic citrus crops. To minimize the freeze's damaging effects, theproduction team ran micro-irrigation sprinklers mid way through the night and early morning. Initial reports indicate that freezing temperatures caused some damage to the fruit. "Temperatures were below freezing and got as low as 24 degrees, but the duration was not below 28 degrees for any period long enough to cause substantial damage; however, we did experience some damage in low-lying cold areas.”

Matt McLean, Uncle Matt's Organic

Indian River Citrus growers are going to have to wait and see about the consequences of long durations of freezing temperatures on Tuesday night. Temps dropped to 28 degrees before midnight and fluctuated several degrees below and just above the 28 degree mark for the remainder of the night. Growers expect some damage to thin-skinned citrus varieties.

Tim Gaver, St Lucie County IFAS

Tropical Fish Industry

More losses than expected just a few days into the event.

Dead fish are already floating to the top. This is very unusual because typically fish don’t float until after the first day of warming temps.

Farmers are still doing everything they can to prevent losses but this adds to the production costs.

Farms framing and covering ponds that would normally stay open. Typical cost is approx. $3,000/pond.

Farmers are medicating fish to try and prevent disease caused by the stress of the freeze.

Damage assessment should be available on Friday

Water temps in Polk County are at 48 degrees…two degrees below critical threshold.

Marty Tanner, President of Tropical Fish Association

Strawberry Industry

I visited quite a few farms thus morning and found growers generally optimistic that damage to strawberries was isolated. Monday night was windy, so water coverage was inconsistent in some spots farthest from the sprinkler heads. Last night was calm, so most had effective irrigation which actually required less pressure to attain proper coverage. Temperatures did not fall as low as predicted this morning, but farms still were generally in mid-20's. Those using cloth covers had a real battle deploying in the wind on Monday, so there was definitely bloom abrasion from the covers. Those using tailwater ponds experienced some sprinkler head freeze since that water is colder than groundwater. Our greatest problem is the diminished harvest volume due to slowing maturity during these cold spells. The missed economic opportunity for our farms cannot be recovered. Also the cost of harvest is extremely high because it takes just as many workers to walk every row and pick low volume as it would to harvest normal quantities. We expect one more night of freeze, but so far minimal damage to plants but considerable damage to revenues.

Ted Campbell, FSGA

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