Strawberry farmers working to fight the first freeze

7:05 PM, Jan 6, 2014   |    comments
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Plant City, Florida-- The season's first freeze has local strawberry farmers staying up all night long to watch the temperatures drop.

"It'll be a long night," said Dover Strawberry farmer Matt Parkesdale.

Parkesdale is a fourth generation strawberry farmer and understands the science behind protecting his sweet berries from the frost.

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"Right before or right after that 32 degree temperature is when we will start to turn on the sprinklers," said Parkesdale.

He goes out to the thermometers he has set in all parts of the field to check the degree every hour. He also will take his fingernail and scrape it on a strawberry leaf to see if the frost is setting in. If it has, he will turn on the sprinklers if he has not already. 

"We have to not only protect the berries, but the flowers," Parkesdale explained. "The flowers are delicate. If you flicked a flower, you are going to have a deformed berry. So if you get a freeze burn, it won't produce a berry that is marketable and it will just end up on the ground." 

Four years ago, a freeze that lasted 11 days had farmers spraying millions of gallons of water over their crops. It lowered ground water levels and caused the aquifer to destabilize. ,About 140 sink holes popped up for days in Hillsborough County. 

Farmers tried other ways of irrigating, like using foam.

"Foam has been looked at and it can work on a small plot but I don't think it can be applied quickly enough when a frost moves in," said Ted Campbell, the executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

"Mother Nature is still a bit in control so we all have to be prepared for this," said Campbell. 

He has researched other ways to protect the berries during a freeze, like covering them with a sheet and other more expensive methods.

"The best way, time and time again, is knowing when to turn on your sprinklers," said Campbell.

The water creates a thin layer of ice over the berries that acts like a thermos and protects them from the frost.

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