- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

MIAMI, Jan. 24 (UPI) — The $9.1 billion Florida citrus crop of 2003 may have been saved by the three freezes in the 1980s as damage from one of Florida's coldest mornings in years was minimal Friday.

Because of the disasters in 1983, 1985 and 1989, growers in the northern reaches of the citrus belt either gave it up or moved south.

"It looks like we came out pretty well," said Casey Pace of Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents 11,000 growers. "There was miniscule damage north of Interstate 4, but most of the crop there had already been picked."

"We flirted with it. We stepped to the edge, but we're fine," said Dan Richey, a grower in Vero Beach, Fla., where the temperature dipped to 31 degrees.

Citrus Mutual President Andy La Vigne said in addition to the early warning of a freeze that allowed growers to accelerate harvesting, cold weather earlier this winter also helped.

"The fact that we have already experienced cold weather the past few weeks made it easier for trees to withstand recent temperatures," LaVigne said. "We suspect only very minor damage as a result of last night's temperatures."

That was in sharp contrast to the 1980s. In 1983, $1 billion in damage was reported and two years later another freeze killed several weakened trees and drove most of the citrus growers south of the east-west stretch of I-4 from Tampa to Orlando.

A third freeze in 1989 moved the remainder of the growers south.

There is little growers can do if temperatures go too low. The rule of thumb is that the trees and crops will survive if temperatures don't remain below 28 degrees for four hours or more.

Gov. Jeb Bush had issued an emergency order, lifting the weight limits of trucks hauling fruit and other crops during the cold spell.

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