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Citrus farmers brace for weekend chill as cold weather arrives in SWFL

Posted at 1:48 PM, Jan 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-30 13:48:12-05

ARCADIA, Fla. — As the cold weather starts to make it's way in, many of us in Southwest Florida need to get ready.

Especially when it comes to some of our plants and crops.

"If it gets below 26 for more than four hours, you’re in trouble.”

Temperatures plummeting, bringing bitter cold to many. Saturday morning, rows of crops covered with protective cloth could be seen at Joshua Citrus.

“We’re gonna be pretty cold, probably down into about 27 maybe 26 in places," said Caleb Shelfer, Production Manager at Joshua Citrus. "But we’re not too worried about it, we’ve got frost protection on our trees so we should be doing alright. Shouldn’t be a problem.”

Shelfer says most farmers will- believe it or not- run water to keep crops from freezing. The water pumped comes out from a sprinkler at a warm 72-degrees and creates a fog in the orange grove and row crops.

“That brings the temperature above freezing," he says. "Now with road crops and stuff like that, you have to put a cover on top of it. So you could put hay or plastic, something like that to cover the plants to keep them from frosting on top.”

But the cold weather isn’t all that bad…

“The cold weather is actually good for citrus," says Olivia Meador, Communications Manager at Joshua Citrus. "It turns them into that orange color- the color that they need to be and it sweetens them up.”

While the chilly temps can be at the citrus farmer's benefit, it can still be quite a process to be ready for what’s ahead. Operating and maintaining the 350-acre farm- especially in conditions such as these- is no small feat.

“It takes a lot of labor, especially to prepare for a freeze," says Meador. "We have to make sure all of our pumps are working, our irrigation, all of the micro jets are working properly to ensure that our crop is alright.”

And with both the wind and chilly temps expected to stay thru the weekend…

Said Meador, “The wind is actually helping us for this frost not to settle. We’ll run the pumps if the wind dies down but, otherwise, we’re just going to sit and wait and see what happens.”