The cold front that moved through Florida this past weekend brought a light dusting of snow in some portions of the western Panhandle and even some light frost in Southwest Florida, but the cooler temperatures left Florida agriculture operations relatively unscathed.
Growers throughout Florida are still suffering from significant damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September, but luckily, this past weekend’s bout of cold weather has not been enough to cause significant crop damage. “We actually like a little cold weather,” said University of Florida regional vegetable extension agent Gene McAvoy in Hendry County. He said as long as temperatures stay on the right side of freezing that a little colder weather can actually be a good thing.
“It helps things like blueberries and strawberries and helps citrus get a nice color, what citrus is left,” said McAvoy. “It also helps beat back some of the insects we deal with in agriculture. Last year, we actually didn’t have a winter and we had a lot of problems in the spring because insects that were present in the fall crop built up in number and then in the spring, they were just at plague levels.”
Citrus groves are generally more resistant to cold temperature damage than low-growing fruits and vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes and squash. McAvoy says it usually takes temperatures dropping to 28 degrees for four hours or longer to cause significant crop damage.
If that were to happen this growing season, McAvoy it would be especially bad for growers, given the losses they’re reeling from related to Hurricane Irma. “Our growers were hurt badly by hurricane Irma and if we do get it cold enough to cause a freeze, that would basically be like adding insult to injury because they’re all concentrating on making as much money as they can. So they don’t really need any other adversity this year.”
Citrus growers are predicting that Irma caused a roughly 50 percent loss to this season’s orange, grapefruit, tangerine and tangelo crops. McAvoy said most growers don’t even expect to break even financially during the current growing season.