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Florida Enters a Deeper Freeze

December 12, 2010 - 6:00pm

Big Chill II hit Florida in a big way Monday, with more subfreezing temperatures expected to descend Tuesday morning.

Citrus growers and farmers across the state were scrambling to protect their crops.

"We could have some frozen fruit," Andrew Meadows of the Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, said Monday afternoon.

The survival threshold for most Florida agricultural products is 28 degrees. Any temps below that for any duration can damage or kill produce.

While the mercury dipped to 28 degrees in several regions of the state during last week's cold front, the latest blast -- not counting wind chill -- sent temperatures plummeting further.

"We're looking at the low to mid-20s," Meadows said.

Liz Compton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, said it was too early to assess losses. She said last week's onslaught put an estimated $700 million in crops "at risk," with an anticipated 2 percent loss.

Over the weekend, in advance of the second cold snap, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson asked for and received an executive order from the governor declaring a state of emergency.

"This allows the lifting of weight restrictions on trucks so that farmers could harvest as much as possible as quickly as possible and get products out of harm's way and to their destination," Compton said.

The "Salad Bowl" around Lake Okeechobee has shivered under unseasonably cold weather, with one Belle Glade farm reporting a total loss of 800 acres of snap beans.

Compton said other vegetables -- notably cucumbers, squash and leafy greens -- are most susceptible to further damage.

Citrus growers, meantime, are hoping that the first wave of cold air brought trees into a dormant state, which could protect them from the current freeze.

But any sustained temperatures under 24-26 degrees will likely damage or at least diminish the citrus crop. With the citrus harvest already running behind schedule -- just 8 percent of the fruit has been picked thus far, according to Compton -- growers are anxious.

"We're looking at a couple of bad, restless nights," Compton said.


Reach Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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