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Blueberry farmers prepare for hard freeze

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After being spoiled with a mild winter, people in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia are preparing for the cold after a freeze warning went into effect Wednesday night through Thursday morning.

With the temperatures starting to dip low, the farmers at the Blu By U Blueberry Farm in Baldwin prepared to protect their livelihood.

The effects of Winter Storm Stella in the Northeast prompted Blu By U owner Tom Morris to jump into action to protect the thousands of blueberries on the farm.

"This hard freeze is probably the worst time," Morris said. "We've got blueberries that are blooming."

The 8-acre blueberry farm owner said on a good year, the farm can produce more than 12,000 pounds during the six-week harvest season.

Morris said the freeze Wednesday night would cost the business because so many of the berries were still green.

"Once they start turning blue, there's a lot of sugar in them to keep them from freezing," Morris said. "So, this is kind of, like, the worst time ever just because they haven't developed their sugar yet."

The farm manager, Matt Merrill, said there are two methods to prevent any blueberry loss.

"We're going to use overhead irrigation that will cover most of our blueberry field," Merrill said. "But four of the rows, we are going to have to cover with plastic and ties."

Plastic covers were used to blanket the rows of blueberries where the sprinklers wouldn't reach. The overhead sprinkler also acts as a buffer to keep the blueberries warm.

Merrill said he hopes the method will help bring a bountiful crop come mid-April.

"Last year we picked about 2,500 pounds, and we hope to do a lot better than that this year," Merrill said.

PHOTOS: Blueberry farms prepare for freeze

Morris and Merrill believe the harvest will be ready earlier this year because there are more leaves at the farm than blueberries currently. So, they hope to keep most of them after the freeze.

"We would hope to get 12,000 pounds on a good year," Morris said. "So, it looks like we have more this year than we had last year."

Blu By U isn't the only farm hoping to protect its crops from the freeze.

The Blueberry Ranch in Nassau County began to prepare their blueberries for the harsh cold weather.

The farm has seven types of Rabbiteye species of blueberries that usually bloom in late February, harvesting in late May or early June. 

The Blueberry Ranch said some of its blueberries are far enough along, but will lose some in the freeze.

Even though it is possible for the blueberry plant to rebloom, the farm is anticipating a setback of about a couple of weeks.