IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Nightly freezes have destroyed much of south Florida’s winter vegetable crops and prices continue to escalate.

Crops in Belle Glade, Immokalee and Homestead sustained extensive damages after temperatures fell to the upper 20s. Normal lows are 51-52 degrees.

While growers continue assessing damages on tomatoes, grower-shippers report initial heavy losses to their green beans, sweet corn, bell peppers and squash crops.

The freezing temperatures that hit during the early morning hours Jan. 10 destroyed all of Belle Glade’s winter corn and beans crops and

Florida beans, corn destroyed, peppers damaged

Doug Ohlemeier

A Jan. 11 freeze destroyed most of the sweet corn and green bean crops in Belle Glade, Fla. Florida growers also lost significant portions of bell pepper and squash crops.

damaged 60% to 70% of Immokalee’s bell peppers and a portion of its squash.

It could take months before Immokalee returns to normal production, said Jim Monteith, sales manager for Pacific Collier Fresh Co.

“This is pretty bad,” Monteith said Jan. 12. “It will be two months minimal before we are back into full production. We will start harvesting some of the product that made it through the freeze next Monday (Jan. 18) but with minimal volume.

“We don’t know how much we are going to be able to run. It’s going to be really hard to determine how much of the crop we will be able to harvest,” he said.

Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, said losses to crops grown in Palm Beach County will be high.

“It appears that we have lost all of our winter corn and winter beans in Belle Glade,” he said Jan. 12. “There may be a planting or two on warmer land that we may be able to save, but for the most part we were completely wiped out in Belle Glade. Fortunately, our spring crop is going in the ground now, and weather permitting, if we have no more future freezes, we should have all of our normal spring volume.”

Damage in Homestead —  which during January and February ships most of Florida’s winter corn crop that is packed and marketed in Belle Glade — was being assessed Jan. 11, Biederman said.

Belle Glade normally harvests smaller volume until late March and early April when Belle Glade’s spring deal ramps up.

Growers in Belle Glade, Homestead and Immokalee grow beans during the winter.

Biederman said one of Pioneer’s Homestead beans growers lost hundreds of acres to the cold.

Monteith said the arctic temperatures also froze out south Florida squash. He said it could take a couple of weeks before growers resume harvesting.

Monteith said the U.S. Department of Agriculture isn’t reporting prices for Florida vegetables because of the damage. He said he called around and heard quotes for $26 for 1-1/9 bushel cartons for jumbo bell peppers and $24 for large.

On corn, Biederman said the market has shot up to $18 from $12 the week before for wirebound crates of 4-4 1/2 dozen.

Beans have jumped to more than $36. Biederman said beans had been slowly increasing in price after a slight market bump before the freezes, when they had been selling in the high $20s for bushels, hampers and crates.

Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., is leading a bipartisan effort with Florida’s congressional delegation to help the state’s farmers gain federal disaster assistance.

“From our citrus groves, to our fields to our tropical fish ponds, initial reports indicate we have seen some of the most damaging weather Florida’s experienced in more than a decade,” Putnam said in a release. “It may be days before an exact dollar figure can be established, but we know it’s been a severe blow to one of the most important parts of Florida’s economy.  We need to make sure the federal government is moving as rapidly as possible to evaluate the damage and make the appropriate response.”

The letter has 12 Florida congressional representatives and senators requesting a thorough and expedited review of the damage assessment and emergency disaster declaration request.