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    Deep Freeze Threatens Florida Strawberries

    December 8, 2010; 1:51 AM ET
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    Bitter cold gripping the eastern half of country has extended its reach all the way into the Deep South, breaking records over the last couple of days. Even people in Florida have not been able to escape it.

    Another morning of temperatures dipping near or below freezing threatened crops in Florida Wednesday, while a shot of even colder air is expected to follow early next week.

    AccuWeather.com Agriculture Meteorologist Dale Mohler expects no significant damage to citrus with the current shot of cold air, but there could be minor damage early next week. As for strawberries, Mohler said Tuesday that damage to unprotected crops in central Florida was possible Wednesday morning and again early next week.

    Mohler says that "all it has to do is get below 32° and it's a problem".

    He adds that early December is a critical time for strawberry crops because there are still blossoms that have not turned into fruit yet. The blossoms are sensitive and, if damaged, may not yield fruit.

    According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the major growing area for strawberries in Florida is the region just east of Tampa. Hillsborough County is the biggest, while minor growing areas extend farther inland through central Florida.

    Temperatures both Tuesday and Wednesday morning dropped near or slightly below freezing in this general region, including parts of Hillsborough County. The low temperature in Plant City, a major strawberry-growing area, dropped to 32° both mornings.

    Icicles cling to strawberry plants just after sunrise Monday, Jan. 4, 2010 in Plant City, Fla. Farmers spray water on their crops to help protect the fruit. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

    The next cold air outbreak coming early next week will likely send temperatures in Florida dropping even lower.

    Farmers can protect their crops by spraying them with water and allowing a layer of ice to form on the fruit. This helps keep the temperature of the fruit at or slightly above freezing.

    Mohler says that spraying is only effective for temperatures down to the mid-20s, however. He states that if temperatures drop below the mid-20s, spraying will no longer protect the crops.

    According to the USDA, Florida contributes 11 percent to the total national acreage for strawberries, the second highest in the country. The nation's biggest strawberry producer is California, which contributes 59 percent.

    Cold's Threat to Vegetable Crops

    As for Florida's vegetable crops, including tomatoes, the subfreezing cold is not expected to reach all the into the primary growing areas southwest of Miami, such as Homestead.

    In secondary vegetable-growing areas farther north across Florida, however, damage is possible again early next week.

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