Storm damage not looking good for Florida growers

Helada en FloridaTaking the hits one at a time is what growers of fresh fruits and vegetables always do — but some issues that fall on top of one another can make even the staunchest grower's bones ache.

Florida and Georgia took a major blow when Hurricane Irma scathed the west coast of Florida and then buzzed through the middle of Georgia last September. Florida growers had young plants in greenhouses, plastic was laid in fields and all the other initial processes were in place for the start of the season. Almost all suffered losses that cost both time and money.

In Georgia, most growers were still harvesting crops in September, and the storm virtually wiped out some areas.

Following a weekend of assessing the fields, last week’s freeze was one more severe blow to many regions of Florida.

Steve Veneziano, vice president of Oakes Farms in Immokalee, FL, said that on Thursday night, Jan. 4, there was widespread frost after 2 a.m., with a low of around 29 degrees. Widespread frost continued into Friday and Saturday.

“We lost 90 percent of our squashes and cucumbers, and almost 75 percent of all peppers — sweet and specialty — that were set on the bush were damaged,” said Veneziano.

He added that neighboring farmers in the Immokalee and surrounding regions were reporting similar crop losses, and that damage and loss assessments were ongoing.

Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., headquartered in Cheriton, VA, said the company’s Florida crops suffered some frost damage including a tremendous amount of bloom damage.

 “Usually we’re warmer on the eastern side of the state, but this time we were actually a few degrees colder,” he explained. “Fortunately, we were finished with cucumbers before the freeze hit. But other crops didn’t fare well, and we expect to be down about 50 percent overall.”

He noted that yellow squash, which has very thin skin, was so badly damaged that it is not worth even trying to harvest the current crop, but that new plantings are under way.

“Zucchini is a little tougher, so we will have some to harvest,” he added. “Peppers had about a 50 percent bloom drop. We’ll continue to monitor so figures could change in the coming days and weeks.”


The Produce News