BELLE GLADE, Fla. — While Florida’s citrus and strawberries have apparently survived a week of freezing temperatures, the state’s winter tomato and vegetable crops could be in jeopardy.

Growers were assessing damages from a freeze that struck south Florida during the early morning hours of Jan. 11.

Florida tomatoes and vegetables sustain heavy freeze damage

Doug Ohlemeier

Tom Perryman, crop manager for Loxahatchee-based Hundley Farms Inc., a member of the Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, Fla., examines some white corn that a killer freeze destroyed on Jan. 11. Growers say the series of freezes wiped out much of south Florida’s green beans and corn. Tomato growers are also reporting extensive crop damages.

Grower-shippers and association representatives report extensive damage.

“This freeze really was the kind of proverbial knockout blow for them (growers) after going 10 more rounds,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland.

At risk are the state’s green beans, sweet corn and tomato crops.

During the early morning hours of Jan. 11, temperatures plunged the lowest and caused the most severe damage to Belle Glade-area corn and beans after the freezing temperatures that struck earlier in the week, said Tom Perryman, crop manager for Loxahatchee-based Hundley Farms Inc., a member of the Pioneer Growers Co-op.

He said temperatures fell to as low as 19 degrees in the Palm Beach County growing area.

“The beans got hammered,” Perryman said Jan. 11. “We still have a few beans that made it, but otherwise, it’s a big loss. On the corn, the first couple of nights froze the tops. Last night finished the bottoms at it got colder lower.”

While a majority of Florida’s corn crop during January and February is grown in Homestead but packed in Belle Glade, Belle Glade normally harvests some corn during the winter before its spring deal begins in late March and early April.

Green beans are grown and packed during the winter from Belle Glade, Homestead and Immokalee.

Perryman said he estimates Hundley Farms’ lost nearly all of its winter corn production that it had expected to begin harvesting Jan. 16.

He said he expects corn and beans prices to increase.

The freeze hit hard Immokalee-area tomatoes and vegetables such as bell peppers, industry sources report.

Lochridge said temperatures dropped low enough and long enough to have caused some significant losses to crops grown in that region.

Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said it could take several days before the industry can estimate how much of south Florida’s tomato crop survived the cold.

He said growers were able harvest the ones near maturity before the freeze, adding that growers are hoping the weather will warm so the crops that have survived can return to growing vigorously.

“We have a fair amount of acreage in Immokalee that is normally harvested in this winter cycle,” Brown said Jan. 11. “That production will be curtailed. It will force the remaining winter crop to be coming out of the East Coast and Homestead. The spring crop that was in the ground in Immokalee, which was much younger, is in better shape than the older crop.”

While temperatures dipped to freezing levels and may have caused some bloom damage to Homestead’s tomatoes, the growing region — which has volume in mid- to late March before Immokalee spring production begins in April — wasn’t hurt as much as Immokalee’s, Brown said.

Though central Florida’s strawberries survived extensive damage, Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover, said shipments remain at a standstill.

He said colder weather is keeping the plants from producing berries. 

Florida’s citrus is also reported to have escaped major damage.