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Freezing in Florida: Cold worries farmers of oranges, tropical fish

January 6, 2012 |  8:17 am

Cold weather in Florida is freaking out the state's farmers, especially those who raise the bulk of the nation's ornamental fish -- the zebra danios, black tetras, banded rainbowfish and other exotic gilled creatures that complement the living room sofa cushions or look cool in the backyard pond.

The state better known for oranges is also home to a significant tropical-fish-farm industry. And neither industry is facing the cold snap swimmingly.

In Lakeland, the Associated Press reports, the temperature recently plummeted to 20 degrees, worrying fish farmer Fran Drawdy, owner of the large fish farm Imperial Tropicals,  who said the cold could harm her colorful crop.

Drawdy told the AP that her farm faces "tremendous challenges" with the cold weather at a time when it was just starting to recover from cold snaps in 2010 that wiped out whole stocks of ornamental fish.

Then there are the citrus growers. On Thursday, Florida Citrus Mutual said growers were dealing with temperatures "colder than we originally expected."

The growers association's Mike Sparks said on the group's website that, although the weather was not "catastrophic," temperatures had reached the mid- to low 20s midweek. And that's bad news for the famous Florida oranges. There were reports of "slush ice" and damage to twigs and leaves, he said. The association expects at least a "moderate impact" from the cold.

As if all that weren't enough, the Florida Forest Service is reminding Florida residents that cold snaps bring an increased risk of wildfires.

Adam Putnam, Florida's agricultural commissioner, warned residents in a news release Thursday of the increased risk of fires brought by a combination of freezing temperatures, low humidity and the recent dearth of rainfall in Florida.

"Any wildfire that starts during these weather conditions could spread quickly and get out of control," said Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service, in the release.


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Photo: Imperial Tropical's breeding manager Kevin Kramer, at right, with owner Fran Drawdy, nets fish at the tropical-fish farm in Lakeland, Fla.  Credit: Chris O'Meara / Associated Press