TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Sunshine State has not been immune to the freezing temperatures that have lingered over much of the United States for the past two weeks, and the prolonged freezes have been causing trouble for Florida's winter strawberry growers.
Most growers have been able to save their current crops with a combination of overnight irrigation, frost cloths and constant oversight, but the consecutive nightly freezes have been taking their toll, according to several published reports. Ongoing efforts to protect the fruit have increased labor costs and disrupted harvests, and despite those efforts, the cold may still cut harvest yields for the remainder of the season by damaging immature plants.
Last week, these conditions had caused demand for the winter berries to exceed supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Average prices reported for flats of eight one-pound clamshells were up $2 to $4 higher than their Dec. 29 price of $18.90.
The state's citrus growers so far have been more fortunate. Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents about 8,000 growers in Florida's $9.3 billion citrus industry, told Reuters on Jan. 5 that it had received no reports of freeze damage during the industry's peak harvest season. Florida oranges are used primarily for juice production, and citrus growers note that cold weather at this time of year can produce sweeter, more flavorful oranges and grapefruits, provided that temperatures don't drop below 30 degrees for prolonged periods of time.