(Jan. 22) Florida has eased trucking restrictions through Jan. 28 to help growers move their crops before freezing temperatures hit.

In response to a request from Charles Bronson, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order which eased weight, height, length and width restrictions for commercial vehicles transporting crops from risk areas.

Truck drivers are being issued temporary permits that allow them to exceed normal restrictions. The specific restrictions are available at www.doacs.state.fl.us.

Growers are taking advantage of the order, although the state doesn’t know to what extent, said Terence McElroy, press secretary for the Florida agriculture department. McElroy said temperatures dropped to 28 degrees in Lakeland on Jan. 20 and were also in the upper 20s around Plant City.

McElroy said winter freezes are common in the northern part of the state, where hardy crops such as potatoes and cabbage are grown in the winter. Crops in the central Florida are at a higher risk, including citrus and strawberries, as are tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and other vegetables grown in southern Florida, McElroy said.

“About 70% of all the domestically grown fruits and vegetables in the country this time of year are grown in Florida,” McElroy said. “A freeze throughout the state could be devastating.”

Crist signed the order on Jan. 14 in response to a National Weather Service alert which forecast freezing temperatures overnight on Jan. 15 through the afternoon of Jan. 16. While temperatures didn’t drop as promised those days, they did reach below freezing the night of Jan. 20, and were expected to drop again on Jan. 21.

McElroy said the weather service is forecasting temperatures as low as 30 degrees in the southern part of the state. Temperatures in Southern Florida should be back in the 70s and 80s by the weekend, he said.

Florida experiences a freeze or a threatened freeze almost every year, McElroy said, and an executive order like this one happens about every other year.

This order expires on Jan. 28, but it can be extended.