An overnight freeze hit several central Florida citrus growing areas, icing up fruit and raising fears of damage to the leaves and small twigs of trees, growers said Tuesday.
It was the second significant hard freeze to maul orange and other citrus groves in Florida in two weeks, and farmers fretted over the early freezing temperatures.
The National Weather Service said several central Florida citrus areas experienced freezing temperatures overnight, and growers in Florida's Highlands and Hardee counties reported furry, heavy frost coating the citrus groves.
"There's frost everywhere ... it looks like Winter Wonderland out there," said Edward Schwartz, who works at Larry Davis Inc in Wauchula, Hardee County.
In some areas, ice had penetrated the fruit, which can reduce juice yield, other growers reported.
"Some guys are telling me they are cutting really solid ice in some fruit ... they are already seeing juice loss, this is going to amplify that," Ray Royce, executive director of the Highlands County Citrus Growers Association in central Florida, told Reuters.
Highlands is the second-largest citrus producing county in Florida. The Sunshine State yields more than 75 percent of the U.S. orange crop and accounts for about 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply.
"Coming out of the last two days, there is definitely going to be significant fruit damage," Royce said.
"The other concern is that we may have a lot of leaf and small twig damage," he added, although he did not see serious "killing" damage to the trees themselves. Leaf and twig damage can affect tree development and the next season's crop.
Royce also said that as the weather warms up over the next few days, this could cause damaged fruit to fall from trees.
Despite the early damage reports, it was too early to gauge the overall impact on Florida's $9 billion citrus industry.
Typically, citrus can be damaged by four hours or more of temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 Celsius).
Jennifer McNatt of the National Weather Service in the Tampa Bay area said this had occurred in some citrus areas.
"It looks like temperatures averaged about 27-28 degrees (Fahrenheit) across those areas for a few hours," she said.
Ona, also in Hardee County, saw a low of 24 degrees.
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