Florida Citrus Growers Say Freeze Damage Still Unfolding

Tacy Callies freeze

With more than two weeks past since the late January freeze in Florida, citrus growers are still assessing the fallout. Some key production regions saw the coldest temperatures in years. With HLB endemic, there’s a lot of unknowns how trees will react to the stress the cold temperatures induced. However, some growers didn’t have to wait to see damage to trees, bloom and fruit in the immediate aftermath of the freeze.

Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association, has been hearing reports that quite a few experienced a nasty hit from the freezing temperatures.

freeze
Growers report increased fruit drop from the freeze.

“While we had some growers that didn’t see much impact from the cold, there are others that saw some pretty significant damage,” he says. “And we can’t say this was a freeze that only impacted those traditional cold pockets in different areas. There was damage beyond those spots, too. It is becoming clear this was a significant event, especially for those that took on more damage. Those folks that had more damage have seen a lot of fruit hit the ground, flush and bloom burned off, some split wood and leaves are now falling.

Jim Snively, vice president of grove operations for Southern Gardens Citrus, says the freeze damage was more than what he would have expected. “It is a lot worse than I thought it would be considering this was not what I would consider a major freeze event,” he says. “I guess the impact on us is exaggerated due to HLB, and the trees were not dormant and full of sap.”

Snively says he is seeing fruit drop on about 30% of the company’s acreage. “We started salvaging this fruit two weeks ago,” he reports. “We have seen wood damage on trees in our colder locations with wood being about the size of my thumb and smaller. This makes up about 10% of our acreage. We lost a lot of the flush and bloom that was out before the freeze. We probably lost about 50% of that flush and bloom. We’ve even seen increasing fruit drop in the past few days.”

“The freeze damage is material. Lows in our area ranged from 28 to 31 degrees with one cold pocket with a brief period at 26 degrees,” says Larry Black, vice president and general manager of Peace River Packing. “Trees were not dormant due to the unusually warm December. There was abundant flush and bloom present at the time of the January freeze that was damaged in most locations. It is too soon to tell how the 2022–23 crop will be impacted. Hopefully, trees will have an additional wave of bloom as predicted by the University of Florida’s Citrus Flowering Monitor.” 

Black notes that Valencia fruit drop accelerated due to the stress of the freezing temperatures. “It is clear the already small 2021–22 crop will get smaller,” he says.

Rob Atchley, general manager for A. Duda and Sons, says he is hopeful the impact on the company’s groves won’t be too great. “We had damage in colder pockets of the grove. The majority of our acreage will not have lasting effects,” he says.

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Frank Giles

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