Cold Wave Smacks Florida's Citrus, Vegetable Crops
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
Its freezing in Florida, and thats very bad news for farmers. They spent much of the past week working to protect their fields and groves. NPRs Greg Allen reports that the cold has taken a toll on oranges, tomatoes and all those other winter vegetables harvested in Florida.
GREG ALLEN: You may be shoveling snow in Duluth and Buffalo, but in South Florida, its harvest time. Tomatoes are already being picked. Peppers, squash and cucumbers are coming in. On John Algers farm in Homestead, the sweet corn is five feet high and almost ready. But hes not sure now if any of it will be harvested.
Mr. JOHN ALGER (Farmer): You see how this leaf has been - froze last night? Its just burred up. It - you know, we had sustained low temperatures right up until about 8:00 o'clock this morning.
ALLEN: Alger points to large, discolored sections of the corn leaves. Theyre translucent, a sign that they froze and may soon turn black. If the leaves can't produce enough energy, the ears of corn will fail to fully develop, and Alger says they won't be worth harvesting.
Mr. ALGER: Probably, Ill end up with a crop here thats not marketable. Everything is sold cosmetically in the fresh fruit and vegetable market. And if its not cosmetically perfect, they won't buy it.
ALLEN: Alger estimates that at least three-quarters of his corn crop was damaged by the freeze. Across South Floridas vegetable belt, its a similar story. The average temperature if Miami this year is 68 degrees. Yesterday mornings hard freeze was the first here in years. Katie Edwards with the Miami-Dade Farm Bureau says it came at a bad time for vegetable growers.
Ms. KATIE EDWARDS (Miami-Dade Farm Bureau): We just began harvesting tomatoes about two weeks ago, so weve been able to get a crop off of that tomato crop. But still, you know, we do have substantial losses that were looking at for all of our row crops.
ALLEN: Florida has certainly had hard freezes before. Whats different this year is the sustained cold, more than a week when temperatures never rose above 50 in South Florida.
In Central and North Florida, in the heart of the states citrus industry, it was much colder, with several consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures and even snow. To protect their crops, citrus growers flooded their groves to help keep the trees warm. But in many areas, that wasnt enough. Andrew Meadows is with Florida Citrus Mutual, a co-op that represents 8,000 orange growers.
Mr. ANDREW MEADOWS (Florida Citrus Mutual): Our line of demarcation is 28 degrees for four hours or more. Thats when you start to get damaged fruit, damaged twigs and leaves. We did reach that in several of our growing areas. So we do expect some fruit damage at this point.
ALLEN: With citrus and vegetables, it will take some time to get a full damage assessment. But Phil Marraccini gets an instant measure of his business just by looking into the ponds and tanks on his tropical fish farm.
Mr. PHIL MARRACCINI (Owner, Summerland Tropical Fish Farms): Anything starting to get below 60 degrees is going to be death. And you can see some of these catfish on the bottom are already dying.
ALLEN: Marraccinis father started this tropical fish business 60 years ago. Marraccini raises guppies, mollies, angelfish and 100 other fish varieties for the pet store trade. But in all his years in business, he says hes never seen anything like this. Most of his fish are dead or getting there. In one pool, fish are gathered in shallow water, warmed by the sun.
Mr. MARRACCINI: Even though some of them are still swimming, you can see theyve already developed a fungus or something on them and you see them lining the edges. Theres probably hundreds of them on the bottom that are dead. Most of this pool will probably die.
ALLEN: Also hard hit are nurseries that raise palm trees and ornamental plants. Once state officials complete a damage assessment of that and other agriculture industries, its likely Florida will seek a disaster declaration from the federal government. That will help the hardest hit agriculture businesses recover with low interest loans.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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