Fortunately for Southwest Florida’s produce growers, the first round of a forecasted three-day cold snap did not pack much of a punch.
Cold temperatures Tuesday morning damaged some plants, said Gene McAvoy, a multi-county vegetable agent with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension in Hendry County, though not to massive scale of the freezes last January.
“We had a little bit of damage here and there but, for the most part, we’ll be all right,” McAvoy said.
Southwest Florida growers are not letting their guard down yet, however. They can expect to face two more rounds of early morning cold weather on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a National Weather Service forecast, with temperatures reaching near freezing.
But after surviving the first round, some growers expressed initial relief.
Rich Levine, owner of Immokalee Produce Shippers, reported small losses on his farm because of temperatures that reached down to 30 degrees.
It was too early to calculate total losses, he said, but he was preparing for much worse.
“Thank goodness we didn’t get a deep freeze,” he said.
Closer to the coast at Farmer Mike’s of Bonita Springs, owner Mike Clevenger said temperatures only dropped to 38 degrees, and there was never a need to cover plants.
“We were fine,” he said.
Last winter, Florida farms lost an estimated $250 million in damaged crops and another $30 million in farmers wages due to a string of freezes that killed off tons of fruits and vegetables.
After Tuesday morning’s freeze, McAvoy said the more delicate veggies like cucumbers, beans and corn suffered the most damage.
Damage to tomatoes was slight, he said.
Levine reported that frost “singed” the tops of some of his tomato plants, killing the fruit on the part of the plant where the frost sets in, but leaving no permanent damage.
“Fortunately, it didn’t take the whole plant,” he said.
McAvoy said citrus plants fared well.
“It may have improved the color,” he said.
Rather than causing heavy losses, McAvoy predicted the cold weather damage may end up being beneficial to some growers.
Produce prices have been depressed, he explained, because of a prolific fall season has left loads of inventory on the shelves.
The moderate produce damage could give excess inventory time to get cleared out, he said, which would help balance supply with demand.
Produce needs to survive the next two mornings of cold temperatures, though, before growers can start thinking about benefits.
Levine said, once again, his workers would water the crops on Tuesday, which raise their temperature, to prepare for cold weather Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
“We take precaution as much as we can,” he said.
Still, there’s only so much that can be done.
“Then, we wait and hope and pray,” he said.
The following shelters are open: St. Matthews House, 2001 Airport-Pulling Road, S. Naples and Immokalee Friendship House, 602 West Main St., Immokalee.