Freezing temperatures cause farmers to lose crops
By Jenet Krol
Brevard County saw some of its coldest weather this January, and for many farmers, that meant disaster.
Crops, such as oranges, ornamental plants and turf did not fare well after the several nights of freezing and below-freezing temperatures.
According to the University of Florida's Brevard County extension office, Florida citrus is damaged when the temperature falls below 28 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 4 hours.
The United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency declared Brevard, among 59 other counties, as "primary natural disaster areas," said Jonathan Groveman, press secretary for the USDA, in a news release.
The designation will allow farmers in Brevard County to apply for low-interest loans.
"The loan will help make someone whole again," said Norm Baker, farm loan manager for the Osceola-Brevard County branch of the USDA's Farm Service Agency. "It will help bring them back to up where they were before the freeze," said Mr. Baker.
Mr. Baker said he's been getting a lot of calls from owners of orange groves and nurseries that grow ornamental plants and greenery for cut arrangements.
The loans will be helpful to agriculturalists that grow crops that are not covered by insurance, such as turf and livestock.
Jim Fletcher, director of the University of Florida's Extension office in Cocoa, said cattle farmers in Brevard County now have an added expense of feeding their livestock, since the grass was damaged by frost.
"With the grass being frosted there is a decrease in the food quality for the livestock," said Mr. Fletcher. "They have to purchase additional food that is a protein source and energy source, which is very expensive. The loans will help offset that cost until they can sell their cattle."
There were also losses to aquaculture in Brevard County, which is a $900,000 industry. The tropical fish raised in farms for hobbyists keeping aquariums did not handle the cold weather at all, said Mr. Fletcher.
"It' s a big industry, and you can see, even in our stormwater ponds, there are a lot of dead fish," he said.
Now that farmers are entering into the later season harvest of fruits and vegetables, Mr. Fletcher said he expects to see more losses to crops.
"The problem is, we still don't know the full extent of the damage. We're still four weeks out from late season harvest and there is still the potential for more frosts before then," he said. "It's good that the USDA is taken a proactive approach to help these producers get some disaster payment early."