BLTs might miss tomatoes with Florida crops blasted by freeze

MANATEE — Some growers are relying on a sense of humor to cope this winter.

"I've been telling people I'm gonna retire and move to Florida," jokes Bob Spencer, of Palmetto's West Coast Tomato.

Says Ralph Garrison of Bradenton’s Suncoast Nursery, “I can’t remember when I last wore shorts. The only people wearing shorts are tourists.”

The winter of 2009-10 will go down in history as the seventh-coldest December, January and February in the history of Manatee and Sarasota counties, said John McMichael, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

The frigid days, which are not yet over, have had a great impact on local agriculture.

Manatee lost 25 percent to 35 percent of all of the vegetables it had in the ground this winter, which is also a statewide average, said Terry McElroy, a spokesman with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Tomatoes are down 40 percent, McElroy said.

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