For the latest coverage on the Florida freeze, see "Freeze causes limited damage to Florida crops; tomatoes uncertain."

Initial reports show Florida grower-shippers escaping significant freeze damage on most fruits and vegetables.

In the season’s first freeze, temperatures hit the mid- to upper 20s in central and south Florida.

Florida growers escape major freeze damageLisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said she was still receiving reports the morning of Jan. 4. She said temperatures fell the lowest in Immokalee, Fla., the winter hub for Florida tomatoes, bell peppers and squash.

“Temperatures fell into the 20s and stayed there for about 12 hours,” she said. “That may be the most troublesome area. In general, there are some areas where they see the typical cold pockets and some damage occurred. At this point, the good news is there’s no significant widespread damage.”

Jaime Weisinger, director of community and government relations for Immokalee-based Lipman, said frost covered vehicle windshields the morning of Jan. 4. He said it is too early to tell the cold temperatures’ effect on tomatoes. Tomato production in January and February remains centered in southwest Florida and the Homestead, Fla., regions.

“It was pretty cold here last night,” he said Jan 4. “It definitely fell below freezing for a certain amount of time. There were some reports of scattered frost around. We should see real effects (on tomatoes) when it gets warm. This was pretty much the coldest area around.”

Temperatures hit the mid-20s in Belle Glade, Fla., packing hub of winter sweet corn and green beans, which see production primarily in Homestead in January and February.

“For most of the vegetable crops that were close to the lake (Lake Okeechobee), there was some damage,” said Paul Allen, vice president and co-owner of Pahokee, Fla.-based R.C. Hatton Farms, which sells corn and beans through Hugh H. Branch Inc., Pahokee. “As the wind blew close to the lake, any crops that were close to the lake survived.”

Allen estimated 300 of the region’s 2,500 winter acres likely sustained damage. 

Citrus growers largely survived, said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual, Lakeland.

“There was some damage in low-lying areas and in cold pockets,” he said. “It hit the mid- to low-20s in some areas but for not long enough duration. The Indian River region came through well with low 30s reported. Statewide, particularly off the Ridge, there are a few reports of cut ice in fruit and some leaf damage but it’s not widespread.

“All in all, I would not call it a non-event, but in general, the industry came through in pretty good shape.”

Christian Tordonato, sales manager of green bean grower-processor Florida Specialties Inc., Immokalee, said growers are reporting damage but said the extent of damage may not be known until later in the week.