Citrus growers hope they're OK

Oranges are seen in the aftermath of freezing temperatures in Balm, Fla. on Thursday morning, Jan. 3, 2008.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 9:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 9:02 a.m.

TAMPA, Fla. - Florida's citrus growers reported only minor damage early Thursday as the state thawed out from an overnight cold snap, even as snow flurries fell in parts of the Sunshine State.

Temperatures dropped into the 20s across north Florida, including parts of the Panhandle. The lowest temperature recorded was 20 in Cross City, about 90 miles southeast of Tallahassee, the National Weather Service said. Snow flurries were reported near the Daytona Beach coastline, the first in Florida since 2006.

A serious freeze would have been devastating to the state's citrus industry, already struggling from years of diseases and hurricanes. But most citrus growers are based in central and South Florida, where temperatures hovered in the 30s.

When temperatures get down to 28 degrees for four hours, that can actually ruin the tree. Only pockets of minor damage were expected, said Rusty Wiygul, director of grower affairs for the grower advocacy group Florida Citrus Mutual.

"It looks like we have dodged a bullet," he said. "We came through this real well, no major damage to the majority of citrus."

The cold could benefit some growers, Wiygul said, because it slows down growth and hardens up citrus trees.

On Thursday, farmers will be checking on other crops that Florida produces in the winter for much of the country, from broccoli and cabbage in north Florida to strawberries, tomatoes, corn and citrus toward the south.

With the entire state, from the Panhandle to Miami, under a freeze warning Wednesday, growers tried to harvest as many mature fruits and vegetables as possible. Gov. Charlie Crist signed an emergency order to relax restrictions on transporting produce.

Some growers protected their plants with sprays of water to ice the crop, insulating the temperature at 32 degrees.

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