Lakewood Ranch Herald

Farmers hope to avoid crop damage

By SARA KENNEDY

skennedy@bradenton.com

MANATEE — Some Manatee farmers were relieved to see undamaged fields and groves after temperatures dipped below freezing early Thursday, but they remained cautious because another cold night lay ahead.

“Everything survived, there’s no damage,” said Kenny Foy, manager for Utopia Farms, which is growing tomatoes on 300 acres in eastern Manatee County.

But he wasn’t celebrating, as freeze warnings were issued again Thursday for much of the state and the forecast called for continued low temperatures through today.

“We’ll have to wait and see what tonight brings,” he cautioned Thursday. “It’s awful cold right now, so I’m a little worried about tonight. It’s in the mid-40s now.”

Tomatoes can survive temperatures of 28 degrees for two or three hours, but much longer than that will damage or kill the plants, Foy said.

“We actually reached 32 degrees at 2 a.m., we hit 30 for the low around 5 or 7:30 a.m.,” said Foy. “It stayed between 30-32 pretty much from 3 to 7 (a.m.).”

Similarly, at Mixon Fruit Farms, 2712 26th Ave. E., Bradenton, there was no crop damage Thursday, said Janet Mixon, co-owner of the farm, which grows citrus and maintains gardens of ornamental flowers. But late Thursday, employees were hustling to prepare for another cold night, she said.

For early today, BayNews 9 meterologist Mike Clay predicted lows in the 20s east of Interstate 75; in the 30s for Bradenton, and in the low 40s on Manatee’s beaches, with no wind,

“It will be calm and clear, so it won’t feel as cold as it did this morning because it’ll be calm,” he explained.

By the weekend, the cold spell will have vanished.

“By Saturday, this will all be a memory,” said Clay.

Citrus growers around the state reported minimal crop damage Thursday and were hoping for continued good luck today.

“We feel like we dodged the proverbial bullet,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and chief executive officer at Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents citrus growers across the state. “There will probably be spot damage here and there but in terms of large-scale problems, we came through OK.”

Temperatures must remain at 28 degrees for a four-hour period in order to damage oranges, grapefruit and tangerines. Although there were reports of sub-freezing temperatures, in most cases they did not last four hours, officials said.

Sara Kennedy, Bradenton Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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