(UPDATED COVERAGE, 9 p.m.)

PLANT CITY, Fla. — Florida grower-shippers are working to protect their crops from severe cold as the Southeast remains engulfed in severe cold weather.

The freezing temperatures have also delayed plantings of Georgia’s Vidalia onions.

Florida, Georgia face record lows, planting delays


Some of the lowest temperatures ever are forecast to strike the Sunshine State Jan. 9-11, and central Florida's strawberry growing region remains under a hard freeze warning where temperatures are likely to remain below freezing for both nights.

During the overnight hours of Jan. 9-11, the National Weather Service forecasts temperatures to dip into the mid- to upper 20s for the state’s primary winter fruit and vegetables growing regions.

The entire south Florida region is under a freeze warning through the morning of Jan. 10. Temperatures are forecast for the low 30s inland and mid-30s for coastal areas.

During the early morning hours of Jan. 11, temperatures are set to fall to 25 degrees in Belle Glade — where much of the state’s sweet corn and green beans are grown and packed — and to 27 degrees in Immokalee, which produces tomatoes and other vegetables.

For Plant City’s strawberries, the evening of Jan. 9 has a forecast low of 25 and a forecast low of 24 for Jan. 10

Much of the state is expected to see 30-degree daytime temperatures during the period.

"This weekend's highs are to be lower than the normal lows," said Mark Greeff, East Coast division director for Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc.’s Dover, operation.

He said the fruit may have sustained some small amount of water damage during the consecutive nights of freezing temperatures that struck the growing region Jan. 4-8.

Temperatures in central Florida’s citrus growing region near Haines City are forecast for 29 degrees during the evening hours of Jan. 9 and 24 degrees on Jan. 10 while temperatures are expected to fall to 33 degrees during the overnight hours of Jan. 10 in the Indian River citrus growing region near Fort Pierce.

Growers say temperatures often hit lower than officially forecast.

Samantha Winters, director of education and promotion for the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee, said the state’s tomato growers are bracing for the extreme temperatures.

“It’s the same thing they always do — prepare for the worst, hope and pray for the best,” she said. “This is a very strange and unusual weather phenomenon we are experiencing in Florida with these sustained cold temperatures. There has been some damage, but speaking to the extent of the damage at this point is just impossible. We will not know anything until this event is over.”

L.G. “Bo” Herndon, president of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms Inc., Lyons, Ga., said earlier heavy rains delayed Vidalia onion plantings, which run through mid-January.

Then came severe cold, which keeps the ground frozen, harms planting equipment and delays transplanting work.

“Now the ones trying to plant aren’t getting in but three to five hours a day planting, and messing them up,” he said. “It’s just been a bad planting season. I don’t know and no one else knows how these onions will be doing laying on top of the dirt. It could cause some problems with the inner rings in May.”

Low temperatures in the Vidalia growing region are expected hit in the upper teens and low 20s Jan. 10-11, Herndon said.

View freeze watches and warnings here.