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Cold threatens citrus, other Florida crops

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Associated Press / January 3, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. - With all of Florida under a freeze warning, citrus and other farmers prepared yesterday for possibly damaging temperatures in the teens and 20s.

Florida's citrus industry, the biggest in the United States, is already struggling from years of diseases and hurricanes, and a serious freeze could be devastating. This one, forecast for last night and today, isn't expected to be too bad, though.

"Growers are definitely concerned any time the temperature is forecast to dip near 30 degrees," said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for the grower advocacy group Florida Citrus Mutual. "We will have a lot of growers across the state pulling all-nighters and keeping a close watch on their groves and the temperature. We are cautiously optimistic the industry can weather this cold snap without significant damage."

Record lows in the teens and 20s were expected in some areas.

The crops, including broccoli and cabbage in North Florida and strawberries, tomatoes, corn, and citrus toward the south, can withstand some cold, but not for long. Thirty-two degrees for four hours will damage an orange, for example, but 28 degrees for that long can actually ruin the tree. Most of the citrus industry is situated south, in areas where it was not expected to get as cold.

Growers were harvesting as many mature fruits and vegetables as possible and trying to protect the plants. That's done by spraying them with water to form an insulating layer of ice.

Temperatures early yesterday fell to as low as 30 degrees in North Florida, but forecasters said it would get colder last night.

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