Temperatures dipped into the 20s in much of the Florida Citrus Belt on the morning of Jan. 18, but the state’s largest citrus growers association expected little, if any, freeze damage. Florida Citrus Mutual spokesman Andrew Meadows said there could be minor or moderate fruit loss in some low-lying pockets, “but absolutely no tree damage.”
The coldest Florida citrus region temperature Meadows had heard of was 21 in Lake County. But most fruit in that northern area had been picked, and trees were believed to have developed cold hardiness due to cool temperatures during the winter.
In Georgia’s fledgling citrus industry, “trees appear to be surviving,” said Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association. “One grower reported he reached 19,” she said. “We (Savelle’s operation) went to 21 in one grove and 22 in the other.” She said where microsprinklers were used for cold protection, trees “are wrapped up with ice, and we will continue to run Microjet systems until the risk of freezing evaporative cooling is gone (probably around 40 degrees) … We know trees can be protected well if we prepare ahead of time.”
Most Georgia fruit is grown for the fresh market and has already been picked.
As a rule of thumb, citrus fruit isn’t damaged until temperatures reach 28 degrees or lower for four hours or longer. It generally takes considerably lower temperatures to severely damage trees.
Florida has had a few damaging citrus freezes in recent decades, but nothing that matches the severity of the tree-killing freezes that hit the citrus industry in the 1980s. Major freezes in 1983, 1985 and 1989 drastically reduced the Sunshine State’s citrus acreage and production. The industry recovered well from those freezes, but has been devastated by citrus greening disease.
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