Citrus farmers brace for cold front

Citrus farmers brace for cold front

By Gabrielle Sarann. CREATED Jan 2, 2012

ALVA, Fla. - An impending cold snap has southwest Florida orange farmers fending for their crops. They're biggest concerns are how cold temperatures will dip and for how long.

Monitoring every tree from his truck, is Florida citrus grower George Austin's first line of defense.

"[I'm] making sure that I have adequate soil moisture ahead of the freeze," said Austin.

To protect his Valencia orange crop in Alva, Austin is running sprinklers double time, four hours a day. It gives the fruit extra moisture to brave the cold.

"During a hard freeze, you would cut the fruit to see if there was any ice that had formed in it," demonstrated Austin, as he sliced an orange in half to examine the middle.

But he hopes that won't happen when below-freezing temperatures threaten his grove.

"We could experience everything from fruit damage to tree damage in extremely cold conditions," said Austin.

If the temperature reaches 28 degrees or colder and lasts for two hours, it could affect fruit on thousands of trees in southwest Florida.

"The moisture in the ground will provide some heat during extremely cold weather," said Austin.

When the freeze arrives, Austin will irrigate his trees throughout the night. A precaution he has no choice but to take.

"We certainly don't need any freezing conditions for any length of time," he said.

Citrus growers say the freeze is most harmful when it lasts two nights in a row. They're hoping it'll end tomorrow morning.