A warm, but challenging winter for farmers

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ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB)- This winter has been about 3 degrees above normal and Gainesville hasn't recorded a single morning below freezing so far this year. While some crops are soaking up the Sun, they're also soaking up too much water, and that's a problem.

Brown's Farm in Orange Springs specializes in Strawberries. Because of the warm autumn temperatures, they were able to sell ripe strawberries in January. "We usually have some fruit in January but we had more than normal," explains Roy Brown, the owner of Brown's Farm.

Roy has been farming in Orange Heights for about 40 years, and while some years he has to cover crops with frost cloths dozens of times, this year he's only had to cover them once. He tells TV20 that he would have used irrigation on that one night, but the ground is too saturated.

The excess groundwater is a problem across North Florida. The UF IFAS extension office keeps track of groundwater readings across the county and says the groundwater is in the highest 5% since they started keeping records in the 1970s. Tatiana Sanchez says "There is so much water in the system and I'm referring to the system as a region that the levels aren't going any lower. They're just there".

Gainesville recorded the second wettest year on record in 2017 and both 2017 and 2018 were the wettest years since 1982 in North Central Florida. The ground is going to take time to absorb the water and in the meantime, farmers have to deal with all the excess.

"It promotes disease in the plants, the fruit, and leaches out the nutrients. I lost beets, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower," Roy says regarding the excess water in the area. Although he's prepared for light freezes over the next few weeks, he explains that there isn't much he can do about excess rainfall. Sanchez from the Alachua County UF IFAS extension office says farmers should be okay as long as rainfall is near average this year.