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Big chill: Lakeland farm experiments with chemical to protect crop from freeze damage

11:44 PM, Feb 16, 2013   |    comments
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LAKELAND, Florida -- Farmers across the Bay area are watching the thermometer tumble, keeping a close eye on their crops on Saturday night.

The freezing and near freezing temperatures can kill their hard work and profits in one night, so many have spent the last day working to protect them.

"We've got a very large set of fruit already in the bushes, and there's a potential that this may not last the night," said Retta Baucom.

The manager at Shady Oaks Fruit Farm in Lakeland covered her strawberries under plastic sheeting, and will venture out every thirty minutes all night to water her crop.  But a batch of blueberries will not need any water all night during the freeze because of an experiment Baucom is taking part in with the University of Florida.

They've sprayed a block of her blueberries with a chemical that is supposed to protect them from the freeze. 

"You coat it completely, and then you let it dry about an hour before the freeze, and it protects it. You don't have to put the water on it," Baucom said.

Researchers arrived at her property yesterday to spray the chemical on her blueberries, which will stay in place until the cold weather moves out.

"There's no residue left on the plant, because once you start your regular irrigation the chemical washes off."

The next step will come on Monday when she will turn her sprinklers on to wash the horticultural chemical away. Researchers will then test the fruit for damage.

"If we lose our crop, then we shut the farm down. I mean, that's my livelihood, and we want to do anything and everything we can to protect the berries."

If all goes as planned and the blueberries survive, they should be ready for harvesting sometime in April. 

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