It often takes time for the damage associated with freeze events to manifest in citrus. That was the case for the late January freeze in Florida. While some growers escaped fairly unscathed, others suffered significant damage.
The damage began to show in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s March citrus crop forecast. The agency lowered expected production of Florida oranges this season to 41.2 million boxes, down 5% from the February forecast.
Mongi Zekri, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) multi-county citrus Extension agent, says some pockets saw significant damage, while others in his territory did not. He covers Charlotte, Glades, Lee, Hendry and Collier counties.
“Some trees were severely damaged with leaf burn and dead young twigs,” says Zekri. “The trees have since produced a few weak flushes of leaves and blossoms, but we won’t expect a good crop from those trees next season. However, most of the groves did not suffer severe damage and have a good bloom and most likely will set a good crop, but it is expected that at least one-third of that crop will later fall on the ground due to citrus greening.”
Lourdes Pérez Cordero, a UF/IFAS citrus Extension agent covering Highlands County, reports damage for growers, too. That damage is continuing to show up well after the January freeze event.
“Damage to trees included limb splitting, loss of resets, ice on fruit, burnt flush and bloom, and severe fruit and leaf drop,” Cordero says. “One of my growers reported 20% to 30% fruit drop in his grove in Highlands County, and fruit kept dropping for some time after the event. In March, I heard reports that fruit that didn’t drop was considerably smaller than prior to the freeze. The fruit would barely pass the new minimum grade standards established after the freeze.”
On March 23, a USDA disaster designation was declared for 17 counties and 10 contiguous counties in Florida impacted by the freeze. The declaration allows affected growers access to Farm Service Agency assistance.
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