Strawberry farmers prepare for freeze, state only domestic provider of the fruit this time of year

PLANT CITY, Fla. - There is a lot at stake. Growers have been working all day to protect Florida's precious commodity: strawberries.

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"We are picking the ripe fruit quickly to get it out of the field," said Ted Campbell with The Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

Campbell, who is the Executive Director, said The Florida Strawberries Growers Association works with more than 100 farmers mostly in Hillsborough County.

The priority is to save the fruit from freezing temperatures of 32 degrees and below. For the next two days, cold weather is not the only challenge, so is the wind. Some farmers will rely on irrigation systems to cover the fruit with water that forms ice over the berries, protecting them from frost and total loss.

The concern is that the wind will shift the water and it will come short from spraying the berries evenly. One spot could get freezer burn on that flower which will eventually be fruit. That fruit is so delicate, if it gets freezer burn when it matures, farmers said it will not be marketable.

Others are using an alternative. They are covering the berries with cloths. Campbell said the idea came from the state after a deep freeze back in 2010. During that time, engineers saw a higher report of sinkholes after water pumping that lasted for more than eleven days.

"That is why we are seeing the alternative, people are using ponds for irrigation instead of well water so you don't wreck the water table, it's not just sinkholes, it's the whole system," said Campbell.

David Arnold, a Well Construction Manager with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said this time around because the cold snap is so short, there shouldn't be any great concern.

"Pumping large quarts of the water in the ground has a potential of triggering sinkholes, however this event is going to be much shorter than that one event in 2010," said Arnold.

The agency is still monitoring the water levels and have issued guidelines.

"We have a freeze plan in place that looks at aquifer levels and other levels," said Arnold.

Guidelines that Campbell said people are conscientious of during this time.

"Everybody has put some type of alternative in motion," said Campbell.

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