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Cold results in later starts for Florida watermelons & potatoes

Cold weather hit Florida once again last week, with temperatures as low as 36°F in some parts. Freeze warnings were also issued in some counties. Overall, the cold weather brought some light freeze damage to some crops. Some of this will be recoverable, but might delay the start of the season for crops such as watermelons and potatoes, particularly in the north of the state.

Growers of watermelons did report some damage to their crops, with a significant number of burned plants. They are now busy replacing some of the lost plants and hope to recover by season start. The main result will be a later than scheduled start to the season. 

"The melon season in South Florida escaped any measurable damage, but it will slow down the start of the season there by a week or two," said Laura Land of Raymond J. Land Watermelon Sales. "In the north, there has been damage to about 30 percent - 40 percent of the acreage which will set things back by 2 - 3 weeks, as growers look to replant and spot plant where they can. As a result, we don't expect to see most of the watermelon volume come in until after Memorial Day."

The market though, is set to be strong with limited supplies. "Fewer quantities will keep the market up, particularly in South Florida where supplies have been less affected," she added.

The potato crop also saw its share of frost damage, but to a lesser extent than watermelons. This will result in a delay to the start of the season in the North, as well as an expectation of smaller sizes in general. 

"The frost caused some damage to the red potato crop," said Cindy Payne of Suwannee Farms near O'Brien. "We're recovering now and don't expect to see a loss in volume. However the season, which is due to start on May 20 in northern Florida, will be set back by a week. One of the major impacts will be sizing where we expect to see more size B which are the smaller sizes. This is because the cold weather has made it difficult for the potatoes to size up."

While the season has been delayed for some crops, blueberry growers generally fared well thanks largely to frost protection measures. This is opposed to Georgia and North Carolina growers which reportedly saw more damage, as these states do not practice widespread frost protection. 

"Our blueberry crops fared well," said Justin Littlejohn of Red, White & Blues Farm. "We were up in the middle of the night applying the overhead watering. So it resulted in a lot of stress and sleepless nights, but thankfully no damage."

"We are due to start this week and the bushes look healthy and lush," he continued. "Most blueberry growers in Florida are unaffected by the chill, due to the lack of severity as well as the fact that all Florida growers have frost protection, which is not a widespread practice in Georgia and North Carolina."

For more information:
Laura Land
Raymond J. Land Watermelon Sales
Tel: +1 (386) 935-1865

Cindy Payne
Suwannee Farms
Tel: +1 (386) 776-2747

Justin Littlejohn
Red, White & Blues Farm
Tel: +1 (352) 529-0594