IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Prices for Florida vegetables escalated sharply as growers assessed damages caused by multiple nights of freezing temperatures, and shippers are warning buyers to expect supply gaps through late winter on green beans, sweet corn and tomatoes.

Those crops sustained the most damage after temperatures dropped into the mid-20s in the Belle Glade and Immokalee areas Dec. 13-15.

Florida growers: Prepare for corn, bean, tomato supply gaps

Doug Ohlemeier

Miguel Talavera, in farming operations for Palmetto-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.’s Immokalee operations, inspects some mature green tomatoes on Dec. 16. Talavera and other growers call south Florida tomato damage moderate to severe.

“As far as Belle Glade goes, we lost all of our beans and 99% of our corn,” said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade. “There might be a field or two growers will try to save, but from Pioneer’s standpoint, it’s a total wipeout.”

On Dec. 16, Biederman said beans had soared from $30.85 the day of the Dec. 14 freeze to $40.85 after the third night of unseasonable cold struck the south Florida growing regions on Dec. 15.

Biederman quoted $24.95 for crates of corn, up from $12.95 the week before.

Though Pioneer was sourcing corn from Homestead, the dominant Florida winter corn supplier, Biederman said he expects Belle Glade to remain out of corn until mid- to late February.

While tomato growers expect supply gaps and higher prices, the initial outlook for losses remains less clear. Shippers initially estimated the freeze destroyed 70%-80% of the Immokalee crop, which grows the bulk of Florida’s winter supplies.

After touring fields on Dec. 16, Billy Heller, chief executive officer of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, called Immokalee-area damage a mixed bag.

“Damage is anywhere from mildly moderate to severe,” he said. “It’s all over the board. It’s going to play itself out over the next 45-60 days.”

Heller said growers would begin salvaging fruit and see how remaining plants grow. He said growers likely won’t know the freeze’s full effect on the crop until the Dec. 21.

Florida growers: Prepare for corn, bean, tomato supply gaps

Doug Ohlemeier

The multiple freezes burned leaves and severely damaged Immokalee-area winter tomatoes like these mature greens in a field south of Immokalee.

The southwest Florida green bean deal appears grim as well.

“I’m telling my customers we will have spotty supplies through mid-January,” said Chris Tordonato, sales manager of Florida Specialties Inc. “It’s going to be a little bit rough for everybody.”

Because harvesting stopped left too few sales to establish a market, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Dec. 15 wasn’t reporting prices for Florida tomatoes, squash and eggplant.

The USDA on Dec. 15 reported cartons of jumbo bell peppers selling for $14.85-16.85 with some selling for as high as $20.85.

On Dec. 14, the USDA reported central Florida tomatoes selling for $8.95-9.95, up from $7.95-8.95 the previous week for cartons of 5x6s and on Dec. 8 reported yellow straightneck selling for $12.85-14.85.

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said the industry is working with federal authorities to secure a disaster declaration to provide growers disaster assistance programs and low interest loans.

Because of a later start following a late bloom, Stuart said citrus growers may experience some leaf drop but weren’t initially reporting serious damage.

He said low winds and irrigation helped protect central Florida’s strawberries.