Cold Sours Prospects For Citrus Crop
CLERMONT — Citrus growers across Central Florida are facing huge financial losses after another night of freezing temperatures, and that could greatly affect the price you pay at the supermarket.
At the Showcase of Citrus in southern Lake County, there are 350 acres of citrus groves, with about 50 different types of citrus.
On Sunday, John Arnold told News 13 that it looks like he may have lost at least 30 percent of his crop.
Arnold said after Sunday’s inspection he found a lot of ice in each variety of fruit, varying from about 5 percent penetration, which makes the fruit sweeter; to 30 percent, which makes it unmarketable.
The ice on the citrus trees was put there by design as they continue to run the irrigation system, hoping to give the fruit an insulating layer of ice to protect it from the cold air.
Arnold said the biggest factor that contributes to fruit survival is how long the temperature drops below freezing, and how sweet the fruit is. Fruits like tangerines are suffering the most damage, and dying trees will lead to losses for years to come.
Meanwhile, Benny McLean’s family has four generations of citrus farmers and said the cold snap has been extremely unusual.
“I have never seen it go,” McLean said. “This is like the seventh day now that we have been on the edge of really having to run the irrigation, trying to decide what’s the critical temperature. Normally it’s a three-day freeze. That’s normally what you get in Central Florida.”
Benny’s son Matt launched Uncle Matt’s Organic in Clermont 10 years ago.
“Extremely stressful,” Matt McLean said. “Probably the most stressful time we have as a company.”
Matt McLean said this is the longest period his company has had to deal with such extreme cold weather.
Although his family was once wiped out by the freezes that hit Lake County back in the 1980’s, the family is taking this latest blow by Mother Nature in stride.
“We’re still assessing the damage,” Matt McLean said. “I say 5 to 10 percent today and some blocks where it got a little colder for longer, we’ll probably experience total crop failure and some issues where we had real low temperatures in the 20. But again those are smaller blocks. There are a couple little fresh fruit places that we have.”
Estimates said this could be one of the smallest citrus crops that growers in the Sunshine State produce in the last decade.
Damage varies so much from grove to grove that it could take several more weeks for the industry to examine just how much damage they have seen from this cold snap.
Growers said for fruit damage to set in, temperatures must reach below 28 degrees for four hours or more.
Colder temperatures for longer periods of time can cause tree damage, which is a major concern because it can impact the citrus crop for years to come.