Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bay area farmers brace for the worst as crop damage mounts; prices expected to rise

As the sun rose and icicles melted across Tampa Bay on Monday, weary farmers trekked through their fields searching for signs of life.

From Bradenton to Brooksville, they found widespread damage of varying amounts among thousands of acres of strawberries, oranges, kumquats and tropical fish.

Though industry analysts said it will take weeks to determine the extent of harm, there's little doubt that nine straight days of record-breaking cold weather will affect prices at the grocery store.

Despite warmer weather forecast for later this week, tired farmers took afternoon naps Monday in anticipation of one more freeze expected early today.

Forecasts called for a low of 19 degrees in Brooksville, 30 in Tampa and 26 in Wesley Chapel, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik, with frost everywhere except near the coast.

After inspecting plants Monday, local strawberry farmers reported minimal damage but remained wary of the cold weather on the way.

"You're optimistic when you've got a lot of fruit left," said Carl Grooms, who owns Fancy Farms in Plant City. "But I'm hesitant to go out and check, especially when there's another night on the way."

Considering the duration of the freeze and all the things that could go wrong, Joe Gude, who runs Brandon Farms in Dover, was surprised to see most of his berries looking good Monday.

He has spent countless hours over the past week monitoring his 200-acre farm and checking for water pressure problems.

On Monday morning, Tampa's low was a record-setting 25 degrees, and St. Petersburg was 33 degrees. Brooksville was at 14 degrees.

During freezing weather, farmers spray their crops with water to create a protective layer of ice, which gives off energy as it freezes and warms the fruit. But too many days of such a practice will take its toll, Gude said.

It's still too soon to judge this freeze's total industry impact, said Ted Campbell, director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. "What was preventable, we've pretty much prevented so far," he said. "Hopefully we've dodged a big bullet, but it's been very hard."

The freeze killed hundreds of thousands of fish in David Drawdy's ponds at the Oakridge Fish Hatchery in Plant City. In 30 years of farming fish, Drawdy said he had never taken a hit like this.

"They just froze," he said. "It looks like it's industry wide. It was just too cold for too long."

While he, too, won't know for sure the exact extent of his losses until it warms up, Drawdy anticipated that he would lose several hundred thousand dollars.

The freeze also wiped out Frank Gude's kumquat crop near San Antonio.

"The only kumquats we have are what's in the cooler," Gude said Monday morning, noting he has about 220 bushels safely inside. "The rest of them are not going to be salvageable."

The trees appear to be okay, he said, but the fruit all froze. That means Kumquat Growers Inc., the nation's largest producer and shipper of the tiny, tangy citrus, is packing it up for the season. Gude has already laid off 40 pickers and stopped selling to wholesalers.

Andrew Meadows, spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, said the industry was hit especially hard on Monday, notably down the west side of the state, including Pasco County, western Polk and eastern Hillsborough.

Like the strawberry crop, it will be a while before the extent of the damage is known.

"There is definitely some frozen fruit, from slushy to solid throughout," Meadows said. "We're in a delicate spot."

The real worry is that trees or roots were damaged by the frost. That won't be clear for at least a couple of weeks, Meadows said.

Grocery stores also await word on crop damages to determine how the weather might affect produce prices. Both Sweetbay and Publix said they were in contact with suppliers and growers, and should know later this week.

Shoppers can most likely expect higher prices for strawberries and oranges, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.

"We're getting word that (oranges have) been impacted the greatest at this time," she said. "So there might be price adjustments as early as Thursday for oranges and orange juice."

Times staff writers Beth N. Gray, Bridget Grumet, Marlene Sokol and Helen Anne Travis contributed to this report. Chandra Broadwater can be reached at, or (813) 661-2454.

Bay area farmers brace for the worst as crop damage mounts; prices expected to rise 01/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 10:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) takes the field to start the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]