Fearing frozen foods

Field worker Brandon Cisneros clears an irrigation ditch of mulch, allowing water and melting ice to flow freely from a section of blueberry trees at Straughn's blueberry farm in Windsor Thursday, January 22.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 10:36 p.m.

Roy Brown said he is eager for warmer temperatures as he keeps a close eye on his crops, especially the strawberries. He said he is hopeful the recent cold snap has not caused significant damage.

Brown, owner of Brown Farms in LaCrosse, checked the farm's sprinkler system Thursday, a critical step in bracing for yet another frosty night.

"We've been trying to frost the strawberries to protect them. We think, hopefully, we've saved about 80 percent of them," he said. "But it's wait and see."

A hard freeze of 26 degrees is expected in the region early this morning before warming up to a low of around 40 degrees by Sunday. Jason Deese, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, said this should be the last hard freeze for a while.

Gainesville's forecasted low is more like the high temperature reached Thursday in Minneapolis.

But many northern and western cities are projected to be warmer than Gainesville early this morning - Washington, D.C., at 30 degrees, New York City at 28 degrees, Salt Lake City at 35 degrees and Kansas City at 33 degrees.

Despite the cold days this past week, Deese said the area's 24-year record low of 10 degrees, set consecutively on Jan. 21, 1985 and Jan. 22, 1985, remains intact.

"We are expecting a widespread frost (this) morning, so not only will it feel like winter, it will look like winter with ice on the ground," he said.

A hard freeze, Deese said, is when temperatures drop below 27 degrees for two or more hours.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson is urging the governor to extend an emergency order easing highway restrictions for vehicles transporting produce to market to help speed up harvesting.

"This is peak harvesting season for many Florida crops, so damage at this time could have significant consequences stretching far outside Florida's borders. Most of the United States' domestic supply of fresh produce comes from Florida during the winter months," Bronson said in news release.

In addition to strawberries, other crops at risk include citrus, blueberries, snap beans, celery, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, endive/escarole, peppers, radishes and squash. Tropical fish and horticulture also are at risk.

In recent days, Barton Wilder, agriculture and natural resources agent with the Alachua County Extension Service, has talked to a number of area farmers who are all worried about damage to their crops.

He said some suffered damage to irrigation systems and were working to make repairs.

"Many used freeze cloths as well, but it's been windy a couple of nights and that negates the cloths," Wilder said.

It will be a few more days, Wilder said, before farmers know the full toll the cold snap has on crops.

"Other than strawberry crops, there is not a lot of other crops planted right now," he said. "But the strawberries are big right now because they try to hit the market in January and February."

Brown also has peaches in bloom and has several varieties of greens planted that could burn in a heavy frost.

"Some of my peaches, about 50 percent, were in bloom, so I hope the frost did not get all of them," he said.

Dr. Liam Holtzman, associate medical director of emergency department of Shands at the University of Florida, said while they get cases of hypothermia from time to time, the recent cold has not caused a spike in such cases.

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