Freezes damage south Florida corn, beans

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South Florida growers are recovering from late January freezes that are increasing prices for sweet corn and green beans.

In freezes that struck Jan. 19-24, temperatures dropped to the mid-20s in Palm Beach County, the major growing region for beans and corn and hit 31 degrees in Immokalee, Fla.

Freezing temperatures also hit central Florida’s strawberry growing region and are forecast to drop again during the overnight hours of Jan. 24.

South Bay, Fla.-based Hugh H. Branch Inc., lost up to 700 acres of winter corn, said Brett Bergmann, co-owner.

The freeze struck the Pahokee, Fla.-area “warm land” adjacent to Lake Okeechobee, he said.

Corn in other growing regions including Indiantown, Fla., and Homestead, Fla., the latter of which produces the bulk of Florida’s winter production, survived, Bergmann said.

“There’s not a lot of winter production (here), but there’s been a tremendous yield reduction,” he said Jan. 24. “Yields are down well below 50%-60%. We are in one of the more prolonged cold snaps we’ve had in the last few years. Usually, we have a cold snap and then it may be 80 degrees the next day, but we’ve had 10 days of cooler weather.”

Bergmann said he wasn’t sure how the damage could affect supplies but noted how corn prices have increased from the typical winter $16-18 a crate to $20-24.

In late January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported $24.40 for wirebound crates of 4-4 1/2 dozen yellow and bicolor with insufficient supplies reported for white.

In south Florida, the cold also damaged beans for Immokalee-based Florida Specialties Inc., said Chris Tordonato, sales manager.

“We’re not showing a lot of damage, but there are some areas where we got some damage,” he said Jan. 24. “It wasn’t a prolonged event but enough to make a difference. It will just lessen the yields which are down 30%.”

In late January, Tordonato and Bergmann said handpicked and machine-picked beans were commanding $40-45.

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