(Jan. 7) On Jan. 7, Florida growers were assessing damage caused by a Jan. 3 freeze that sent crippling subfreezing temperatures to the state’s central and southern growing regions.

Temperatures during the early morning hours of Jan. 3 ranged from the low to mid-20s in the Plant City area, the mid- to high 20s in the Immokalee area, and above freezing in Belle Glade and in the Indian River citrus growing region.

A freezing wind whipped through many fields and harmed strawberry and tomato production. In early estimates, citrus and other vegetables appeared to have escaped serious harm.

The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, in a Jan. 7 online update reported that overall, the freeze didn’t cause significant damage. While tomatoes, bell peppers, green beans, lettuce, and squash suffered varying degrees of damage, citrus groves largely escaped injury, the FFVA reported.

Problems with irrigation equipment and strong winds that blew away the water strawberry growers sprayed over their fields during the overnight hours damaged fruit. The water freezes and forms ice over the berries, protecting them from subfreezing temperatures.

Shawn Crocker, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said some freeze burn spots were evident in fields.

Crocker said the earliest the industry expects to receive any information on damage estimates is by early to mid-February, after growers finish their current pickings.

He said up to 20% of the current pickings are probably lost, adding that two other large growers sustained catastrophic damage after their irrigation pumping systems failed.

Tomato industry leaders were awaiting damage reports Jan. 7.

Skip Jonas, field compliance officer for the Florida Tomato Committee, Maitland, said it might be Jan. 11 until the industry receives a better picture of the damage.

“Some of the leaves were burned,” he said. “But it’s up in the air at this point. Growers won’t talk until they know what kind of damage there is. They’re not expecting anything major.”

A bloom drop caused by the cold could create a gap during the middle or end of February, Jonas said. Even that, however, may not happen as the industry wasn’t sure if the tomatoes suffered any bloom damage, he said.