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Entire squash fields frozen

Rain will impede Florida cold weather recovery

Florida growers are counting the costs after cold weather in the last week damaged or destroyed months worth of crops. A broad range of crops have been affected and the problems have been spread right across the state. With many crops requiring replanting or repairing, growers say the forecast rain this week will stall recovery efforts.

A number of growers noted that early plantings of corn have been affected, particularly in the Central Florida region. Some corn is grown in the South and this was not affected. Suppliers are citing concerns over the upcoming harvest, but say supplies are ok for now. 

"The corn crops around Belle Glade were badly affected by the cold," said one broker in the region. "Around Homestead, the weather was cold but it did not appear to damage the corn in that area. Right now, supplies are coming in ok, however we are already seeing demand softening as the market slows down."

Green beans
Green beans are another crop that has been badly affected. Growers have already endured a tough season, on the heels of the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Now, it is the cold weather that has caused major losses and is causing prices to increase.

"We have lost some of our green beans in the Belle Glade district," said Geoff Taft, of Pioneer Growers. "The snow and ice damage was sporadic and did not affect all the fields. However, growers will be spending the next 3-4 weeks replanting. With lead time factored in, we estimate the region to have very limited supply for the next 2-3 months. Already we are seeing green bean market prices of $30 or more."

One of the worst affected crops is squash, with a number of growers mentioning they had lost some or all of their crop. Now they have to begin the task of replanting once the ground is ready. "I see my entire fields frozen solid," said Steve Veneziano, of Oakes Farms. "My plants are jet black. We’ve lost 100 per cent of the squash and now have to replant all of it. We couldn’t save anything. We haven’t been through anything this severe before."

Supplies will rest heavily on those crops that remain and it will take months for replanting to have an effect. "Once we replant the squash, it takes 52 days to come in," Veneziano continued. "We have another outside grower who partners with us, a little bit east and he didn’t get wiped out so that’s all the squash we have. We’re working off about 8 percent production on squash."

"The cold weather we had last weekend created a lot of problems for our squash production," said Tom Nicholson of Ben Bud Growers. "It came close to freezing in a few areas and that will have some long term effects down the road. The rain will halt the harvesting for a short period of time. Long term affects would be bloom drop on mature plants and stress to the younger plants which will come out of it but may cause less fruit than normal. Basically for the next 4 weeks or so we will be blaming shortages on this past cold snap."

Asian vegetables 
Jalaram Produce in the south of Florida grows a variety of Asian vegetables, such as Indian eggplant, varieties of green beans, squash, among other products. Their crops have also suffered damage from the cold weather. They also said the upcoming rain will make replanting efforts difficult. 

"Production has slowed right down due to the cold weather," said Cruz Castillo, of Jalaram Produce. "This is due to two reasons - firstly, the damage to crops, and secondly, because the cold slows growth down and causes the plants to enter a dormant stage. This has affected a number of products we grow, including eggplant, long beans, green beans, flat beans, squash, amaranth leaves, and others. Our Florida crops cover 500 acres and most of them are affected. We did pick a lot beforehand, however the coolers are full and there is only so much you can save. The rain will prevent replanting efforts, depending on how the showers are spread. We can't have workers out in heavy rain, especially if there is lightning about."

Satellite photo of the weather system that caused the Florida freeze

Problems to continue for some time
For many growers in Florida, it is another chapter in what has been a challenging season. The two hurricanes, recent cold weather, and transportation has created one problem after another. "It's been tough this year," Castillo continued. "We just recovered from the hurricanes, which also completely destroyed our supply of green mangos in Puerto Rico. Those growers there still don't even have power and it will take years for supply to get back to normal. Now we have the transportation issue surrounding the E-Log legislation that began last month. This is resulting in a huge increase in transportation costs."

As for the market, most growers agreed that it will take time for the impacts on the market to fully become apparent. Almost certainly, prices will go up, but for how long and by how much is unclear at this stage. "It's too early to tell what will happen with the market," Castillo concluded. "As demand from up north starts to overtake supply, prices will rise. But it will take some time to find out by how much."

The northern and central Florida regions are forecast to return to warmer weather in the coming days, but the far south will see heavy rainfall instead.

For more information:
Cruz Castillo
Jalaram Produce
Tel: +1 (305) 245-0083

Geoff Taft
Pioneer Growers
Tel: +1 (561) 996-5211

Steve Veneziano
Oakes Farms
Tel: +1 (239) 658-0924

Tom Nicholson
Ben Bud Growers
Tel: +1 (561) 347-3100

Publication date: 1/9/2018
Author: Dennis M. Rettke
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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