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Florida Agriculture Suffers Damage in Freeze

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Florida growers experienced freeze-related damage over the weekend, but will have to tough it out one more night before they can accurately assess crop losses brought on be frigid temperatures.

With subfreezing temps again forecast for much of central and northern Florida Monday night, Florida’s multi-billion agriculture industry could do little but wait for Mother Nature to loosen her icy grip.

Citrus growers, whose groves produce $9.3 billion in revenue and more than three-quarters of the U.S. orange crop, were especially wary as temperatures in some areas of the state dropped for extended period into the low 20s Sunday night and may do so again on Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Anecdotal reports indicate damage has occurred as far south as Lake Okeechobee and beyond, but it may be days before accurate figures can be compiled.

The cold temperatures heated up demand for electricity. Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility, set an all-time hour power-use record early Monday, reaching 24,354 megawatts, Reuters News Service reported.

Meanwhile, Florida Gas Transmission warned suppliers that cold weather would bring demand to near peak levels. 

Terry McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said it will be days before the state can get a handle on the millions of acres in agricultural production. Growers, for example, who used irrigation to protect crops from the cold may not be able to fully survey water-logged fields for a few days. 

McElroy said initial reports show that the extremely low temperatures combined with the duration of the cold snap will take a toll on Florida’s fruit, vegetable, ornamental plant and tropical fish industries.

 “The $64,000 question right now is how much damage,” McElroy said. “We don’t know yet what will bounce back and what is lost.”

While the state’s $9.3 billion citrus crop is its most high profile commodity, other agricultural industries were also experiencing the cold sweats. Florida’s tropical fish industry, a lesser-known, but growing, contributor was being harmed by the length of the most recent cold spell, brought on by a pair of back-to-back cold fronts descending from the north.

The sugar industry was also taking a beating. In response, cane growers were accelerating the harvest to reduce the crop loss, the extent of which won’t be known for days.

“Last night and this morning, our farms experienced below freezing temperatures for multiple hours,” Judy Sanchez, spokeswoman for U.S. Sugar Corp. in Clewiston, said Monday morning.  “This weather event was worse than the Jan. 6 freeze.”

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