Southwest Florida felt its coldest temperatures of the winter early Tuesday morning, as some inland areas weathered a third occurrence of subfreezing temperatures causing another round of damage to the local vegetable crops.
The cold weather with the threat of freezing temperatures is expected to continue tonight and early tomorrow morning.
On Tuesday, temperatures reach as low as 27 degrees in Immokalee, according to Gene McAvoy, a multi-county vegetable agent with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension in Hendry County. Coastal areas such as Naples dropped down to 34 degrees according to the National Weather Services.
Temperatures are expected to go below freezing inland again on Wednesday morning, and near freezing closer to the coast.
That forecast could spell more trouble for vegetable growers, whose crops have already suffered during this unusually cold December.
McAvoy said vegetable farmers got their worst damage of the winter from early Tuesday morning temperatures, though still not as significant as the freezes that cost farmers hundreds of millions in crop losses last January and February.
“The crops will survive but they’ve been hurt,” he said.
Tomato and pepper plants were amongst the damage in Immokalee. Some corn and beans, that had survived last week’s freezes in Hendry County, were lost Tuesday morning.
“It’s hard to give the exact number,” he said. “A lot of it won’t be apparent for a day or two.”
Justin Hood, a farm manager with Collier Pacific Growers, said damage to the tomatoes, squash and peppers he oversees has been “minimal.”
However, the two recent cold fronts has taken its toll in other ways.
Hood said any cold event are tiring, but the back-to-back cold weather is tiring, and supplies are getting costly.
The farms try to protect the crops using sprays and other irrigation methods.
“All that adds up, it’s a tremendous cost,” he said.
The drop in temperatures did not do much to harm plants at the Naples Botanical Garden.
“We’re definitely going to have leaf drop and some trees going deciduous a little bit earlier than we would have liked, but in some respects it prepares them for future cold,” said Brian Galligan, director of horticulture.
The Garden’s staff will continue to cover as many plants as possible with drop cloth throughout the day to protect from possibly even cooler temperatures overnight.
“We’re basically going to use every bit of frost cloth we have left,” said Galligan.
McAvoy explained that cold damage to crops and plants can be cumulative, with several back-to-back frost severely damaging plants, likening it to “death by a thousand cuts.”
Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale
Staff writer Carrie Wise contributed to this report