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With little crop damage, Rep. Adam Putnam holds off on federal aid request

WIMAUMA – Last week's cold snap did little damage to Florida agriculture, officials said Monday, attributing much of this good news to simple irrigation and sleepless nights.

Still, a local congressman toured an east Hillsborough citrus grove just in case and will push for federal assistance if needed.

Local growers suggested that won't be necessary, though they acknowledged that some, such as Polk County's ornamental fish farmers, fared worse than others.

George Casey, who maintains a 10-acre blueberry farm in Brooksville with his wife, Joan, estimated less than 5 percent of his crop was damaged. Casey, like many farmers across the state, used sprinklers to coat his berries in a protective layer of ice.

"It was a hard freeze. It wasn't easy," Casey said. "But if we had not protected them, we would have lost over 50 percent."

Carl Grooms, who runs Fancy Farms in Plant City, said he and others in the berry industry have seen little crop damage due to good luck and good preparation on the part of growers.

"It was very minimal. We just lost some blooms," Grooms said. "I think we came through very, very lucky in that situation."

In Wimauma, citrus grower Louis Haverlock said that damage on his 700 acres of Valencia oranges could put a dent in his juice production. However, he said that much of that is attributable to a virus that makes his nearly 50-year-old trees susceptible to cold damage.

A handful of tropical fish farmers in northern Polk County took a big hit, reporting 20 percent to 30 percent losses, said Marty Tanner, president of the Florida Aquaculture Association. Total losses across the more than 120 fish farms in the state are still unknown, he added, since secondary fish deaths from bacteria infections won't appear for another few weeks.

Rep. Adam Putnam, who represents parts of Hillsborough and Polk counties, toured Haverlock's Lou Ross Citrus farm Monday morning. Putnam later said he will continue to monitor the situation and will not push for federal disaster relief unless new information warrants it. He declined to discuss talk that he is considering a bid for Florida agriculture commissioner.

Times staff writer Saundra Amrhein contributed to this report.

With little crop damage, Rep. Adam Putnam holds off on federal aid request 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 11:30pm]
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