Fla. farmers, manatees endure frosty night
SEFFNER, Fla. (AP) — As the sun rose on a chilly central Florida morning Wednesday, strawberry farmers ran sprinklers in hopes of insulating the tender fruit with water. Icicles hung off red berries and steam rose from the warm earth.
The cold snap also prompted hundreds of manatees to huddle together on Tuesday in the warm waters of the Tampa Electric Company's power plant in Apollo Beach, on Tampa Bay.
Central Florida is one of the state's main strawberry-growing regions. January is the beginning of strawberry harvest season, and cold weather at this point can damage the entire crop. But growers — especially in eastern Hillsborough and Polk counties — were hopeful that the overnight freeze wasn't long enough to do lasting damage.
While temperatures dipped into the 20s and 30s across much of Florida, some farmers said crop damage was limited.
The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association said low temperatures reached 26 degrees in Belle Glade, but the bean and corn crops fared OK. There were patchy areas of damage, the association reported on its Twitter page.
Florida Citrus Mutual reported that some farmers experienced damage in low-lying areas, but the cold didn't last long enough for significant damage. John Arnold at Showcase of Citrus in Clermont said December's warm weather made the orange trees more vulnerable to the cold. But he said the trees pulled through the chilly night.
"The trees pulled through exceptionally. We did not have any ice form in any of the fruit," Arnold said. "We've got basically five weeks ahead of us, and if we do make it five weeks without any kind of severe weather, we're going to have an exceptional crop in 2012."
David Boozer, the executive director of the Florida Tropical Fish Farm Association, said his members aren't anticipating major losses from the cold spell — unlike a devastating freeze in 2010, when farmers lost more than 80 percent of their fish.
"The last three winters in a row it seems like we have been just clobbered," Boozer said.