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Freeze Reduces Acreage for Harvest in Florida, Texas

January 9, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The freezing Christmas weather that ripped into winter vegetable areas of Florida and Texas sharply reduced acreage to be harvested for broccoli, celery, lettuce and tomatoes, according to an Agriculture Department report Tuesday.

Overall, farmers are expected to have about 191,000 acres of seven selected winter vegetables for harvest this season, down 8 percent from a year ago, the report said.

No production estimates were given in the report.

In Texas, for example, no carrots are expected to be harvested, although carrot acreage is up in California and Florida.

Celery for harvest in Florida is down 14 percent from a year ago, however, and the sweet corn acreage was reported down by 35 percent. The Texas lettuce acreage was reported to be cut 79 percent from last winter, while the Florida tomato acreage is down 32 percent.

But the Florida harvest of winter strawberries is expected to be from 5,400 acres, up 2 percent from last year.

″Growers saved most plants from the Christmas weekend freeze by forming ice caps on plants with overhead sprinklers,″ the report said. ″The freeze will lower yields because fewer pickings will be made. Virtually all plants are expected to survive if temperatures remain moderate for the next few weeks.″

Looking at the carrot situation, most of Florida’s crop was destroyed, although growers ″are expected to replant most, if not all, of the lost acreage,″ the report said. Part of the severely damaged crop in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas may be salvaged by hand harvesting ″if the price is high enough.″

Department analysts have said that while citrus and fresh vegetable prices are expected to rise in the first quarter, overall consumer food prices in 1990 are still expected to go up a modest 3 percent to 5 percent, compared with an average of 5.7 percent in 1989, the sharpest gain since 1981.

One reason is that vegetable fields can be replanted quickly so that there’s a minimum lag in supplies, they said.

In a related report, the government’s Joint Agricultural Weather Facility said Florida vegetable farmers enjoyed warm weather in major producing areas during the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 6.

″Planting and replanting was active under nearly ideal weather conditions,″ the report said. ″Harvest continued, but supplies of most crops were reduced.″

The joint facility, which is operated by the Agriculture and Commerce departments, said freeze damage in Texas ″became more evident″ in the Rio Grande Valley. ″Lettuce and celery were severely damaged, and onions also suffered some loss,″ it said.