Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farmers Feel Deep Freeze Cold Ushers in Sleepless Night as Growers Nurse Crops

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Farmers Feel Deep Freeze Cold Ushers in Sleepless Night as Growers Nurse Crops

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson, Times-Union staff writer

HOMERVILLE -- With his four acres of strawberries under an icy cover, Jason Bell was hopeful he had succeeded in saving his crop at the expense of a sleepless night.

With temperatures dropping to 18 degrees in Homerville overnight, Bell, his friends and family had worked all night to keep irrigation water running. And with the National Weather Service predicting temperatures would drop into the low 20s in much of Southeast Georgia overnight and rise to 60 degrees today, Bell was preparing for a third straight night without sleep. He spent Tuesday night laying a thin fabric cover over blooming strawberry plants.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture said it will be several days before it can contact University of Georgia Agricultural Extension Service county agents and compile estimates of freeze damage to berry crops and the Vidalia onion crop.

Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said he met with a group of worried onion farmers yesterday.

"They know there's been some damage but they don't know the seriousness of it yet," he said.

Automated weather-monitoring equipment on one farm recorded a low of 20 degrees.

"In Vidalia, it got to the lowest it's been on Feb. 27," Irvin said.

It was even colder farther south, in the main blueberry producing counties of Appling, Bacon and Clinch.

Many of Bell's fellow farmers, most of whom grow blueberries, used the same protective tactics, spraying water on their crops from when temperatures approached 32 degrees until the resulting ice thawed the following days.

At Wayne Hinson's farm south of Homerville, sprinklers running at sunrise added to the golf ball-sized clumps of ice coating green berries and icicles hanging from limbs covered with blooms. Tractors and diesel motors that powered the pumps roared as the sprinkler turned.

Bell had encountered difficulties keeping his plan working as sprinkler heads froze.

"I walked up and down the rows and beat it with a wrench," breaking the ice off, he said. "I was out there in a raincoat. It froze to me. I had to stand over the fire and thaw it out before I could take it off. …

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