Just three weeks into the new year Southeastern growers have already had to cope with several abnormally cold weather events, including sub-freezing temperatures deep into Florida on multiple occasions.
It has not gotten cold enough long enough anywhere to do serious damage. Peach and blueberry growers in fact are delighted that their crops have already gotten almost enough chill hours for the season. And though the cold has taken a bite out of the Florida vegetable crop, that might not be a bad thing.
Mexico endured more than eight hours of sub-freezing temperatures earlier this week, “which will slow things down there,” according to Gene McAvoy of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
Combined with sky-high trucking rates that currently give Florida shippers about a $2000 advantage per load over product shipped from Mexico or the west, demand for Florida product could provide the first solid market those growers have had in a couple of years, McAvoy says.
Further north, “This is the second best winter we’ve had for chill hours in the last 15 years,” says Chalmers Carr of Titan Farms in Ridge Springs, SC, the largest peach grower on the East Coast. “So you can check the ‘dormancy’ box, that’s one less thing to worry about.”
After yet another year of citrus greening disease and the loss of about half the crop to Hurricane Irma, Florida citrus growers can ill-afford more bad news. They didn’t get it from the recent cold snaps, which have only proved problematic for isolated spots in low-lying areas.
“We were a few degrees colder than two weeks ago but reports are saying citrus came through in good shape for the most part. Up north we had a report of 21 degrees in Lake County but most of the fruit has been picked already in that region,” says Andrew Meadows of Florida Citrus Mutual. “Of course we span such a large geographic footprint there no doubt will be low lying pockets that may cause mild to moderate fruit damage but absolutely no tree damage. There is an area off the southwest part of the ridge near Wauchula that always gets zapped and that might be the place where we see a little fruit damage.”
Cold dipped all the way down into deep South Florida but mitigation efforts kept the worst of it at bay. Combined with bloom loss from earlier cold weather, this latest cold snap could lead to a total reduction in the Florida veg crop of about five percent, McAvoy guesses.
Florida tomato grower Tony DiMare of DiMare Fresh said that crop did take some minor damage, but production for the season is already completed in Central Florida, which felt the worst of the cold.
Temps did not drop low enough in Homestead to cause concern – 41-42 degrees – but high winds mean that though there “no immediate damage, there will be quality effects and some yield loss 4-7 weeks from now,” DiMare said. “It was colder in Southwest Florida-Immokalee area — 30-33 with wind. Damage will be more significant there, with quality effects and yield loss showing up the end of February—1st of March.”
Michael Orfanedes of the UF/IFAS Broward County Extension said the area north of Miami/Homestead came through intact as well.
“We had cloud cover well into the first half of the night. I had 39 degrees at my house in Weston this a.m.,” Orfandes said. “No sign of frost anywhere and no visible plant damage in my yard which has many tropicals.”
There’s still plenty of winter left to go, but earlier worries about major crop damage or loss have been put to rest – for now. Southeastern growers will keep worrying and watching for a few more weeks.