Farmers harvest citrus, protect strawberries

1/5/2014 8:00 PM
By Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Farmers hustled to harvest citrus and protect strawberries, homeless shelters admitted all comers, Terrebonne Parish jail inmates got extra blankets and people were warned to protect pipes, plants and pets as arctic air smacked into the Deep South and temperatures plummeted in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Shreveport, Monroe, and Hernando, Miss. all had morning highs in the 50s, with temperatures either below freezing or feeling like it by 3 p.m. Sunday. Mississippi temperatures were likely to be in the 20s or below near sunrise, with wind chill factors down to minus-4 degrees, said National Weather Service meteorologist Chad Entremont in Jackson, Miss.

In Shreveport, meteorologist Aaron Stevens said temperatures across Louisiana had fallen to the upper 30s by midafternoon, with winds strong enough to make them feel like the low 30s or upper 20s.

Clear skies at night would mean a frigid Monday morning, with temperatures in the upper teens and a wind chill in the single digits, he said.

New Orleans and Shreveport were among cities implementing freeze plans to ensure that nobody would be turned away from shelters for the homeless. The four privately run shelters in New Orleans all would be open without charge, a city news release said.

Maj. Kari Booth, assistant corps officer at The Salvation Army in Shreveport, told The Times (http://bit.ly/1dFI6tt ), "Even if we are full and the Rescue Mission is full, we will find a way."

Cold weather shelters opened in Biloxi, D'Iberville, Gulfport and Harrison County, The Sun Herald (http://bit.ly/1gaA9fr ) reported.

Inmates in the Terrebonne Parish Jail were getting extra blankets because one of the two boilers that heat the jail was broken, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter told The Courier on Saturday (http://bit.ly/JCEfTb ). "There's no inhumane treatment," he said — temperatures Saturday were between 60 and 65 degrees, he said.

A supervisor who would identify herself only as Lt. Chamberlain told The Associated Press that questions about conditions in the jail on Sunday would have to be answered by the warden on Monday.

Larpenter said the Terrebonne Parish Council is expected to approve about $59,000 on Monday for two new heaters, which will be installed as soon as possible.

Pets and potted plants should be inside if possible, experts said.

With two freezing nights ahead, Louisiana citrus farmers — most of them in Plaquemines Parish south of New Orleans — were picking what they could of the last of their crop.

"We're scrambling right now," said Ben Becnel Jr. He estimated that Ben & Ben Becnel Inc. had about 5,000 bushels of fruit on the trees, mostly navel oranges and the sweet, thin-skinned mandarin oranges called satsumas.

Citrus is picked by hand, reaching up from the ground or out from short ladders to reach the tops of 10- to 12-foot trees and place the fruit in 5-gallon buckets. Becnel said he and his 10 workers should be able to get 1,000 bushels boxed before Tuesday.

"If it doesn't get below 25 for too long, some of the varieties will be OK," he said, noting that the sweetest would be safest. "Lemons freeze quick. The more sugar in the fruit, the longer it takes to freeze."

With some forecasters predicting lows of 22 degrees, it may be a close call, he said.

"You just hope the rest make it. It's all you can do," he said.

The cold wasn't as threatening at Stella Plantation, although manager Hugh French had hoped to harvest navel oranges through January.

"We pick our A-1 fruit first," he said. "So some of what's left on the tree would be culls — not the prettiest looking fruit, but it still tastes good."

Livingston Parish farmer Frank Fekete said he'd covered about one-fifth of his 50,000 strawberry plants — the earliest planted — with Agribond "blankets".

"They've got crowns down into the heart of the plant," he said. If those freeze, Fekete said, flowers will die before they emerge.

With 5 acres in strawberries and another 20 acres in crops such as cabbage, broccoli, beets and onions, he said, he can't cover everything.

"The cole crops — cabbage, broccoli — they'll make it," he said.

The LSU AgCenter advised homeowners to harvest any broccoli, cauliflower, fava beans or peas that are ready. Fekete said he'd harvested his broccoli before a December freeze.

"All the root crops they'll be all right. If the ground freezes it'll kill them. But I don't look for that to happen," he said. In southeast Louisiana, at least, the days were expected to warm up into the 40s.

But with weather, he said, one never knows ahead of time: "It's like a casino, playing craps. Tomorrow might be a crap-out night."


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8/1/2014 | Last Updated: 5:31 AM