Brooksville, Florida -- Hoping to fight off freezes and save millions of dollars worth of crops without wasting tons of water, growers and scientists are teaming up.
You know it's early at JG Ranch in Brooksville when your barking best friend is begging for breakfast, your rooster alarm clock is going off, and Stacy Strickland is roaming your fields taking temperatures.
He's part of a University of Florida team studying ways for farmers to turn off their tried-and-true sprinklers, but still fend off freezing temperatures.
"We know what the residents of Florida want. We've done surveys," said Strickland, a University of Florida extension officer.
"We know that one of the most important things to our residents is water quality and quantity. And we want to preserve that for those future generations."
Draining wells to warm and coat crops is the old-fashioned way to survive a freeze like the one that swept over JG Ranch late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
When that method's used in extreme conditions for extended times, it can dry up water sources, invite contamination, and create sinkholes all over a community.
Strickland showed us into a "hoop house" -- basically a large fabric tent with a rounded roof. It's one of three water alternatives being tested here, partnering state scientists with a private grower.
It works. Inside, tomatoes are around 17 degrees warmer than the right-at-freezing temp outside.
The other two methods being tested aren't quite as effective, but they're also less expensive.
Dr. Strickland's team hopes to find that magic mix -- the right freeze protection at the right price -- and share that with farmers all over Florida.
"Everything -- whether it's as a consumer or whether it is on a farm -- it has to be cost-efficient," Strickland said.
"And so if we can find a cost-efficient method that is going to preserve a resource that is so important to Floridians, we certainly want to do that."
Old-fashioned watering is how JG Ranch got its $60,000 worth of berries through the Tuesday night freeze. But owner George Casey does say he's willing to roll out other methods in the future if they balance cost and protection.
JG Ranch is a pick-your-own-berries farm, and because his berries survived the cold, Casey says his strawberries will be ripe and ready for people to come pick starting on Thursday and on through the weekend.
The ranch's blueberries also held up well, Casey said, and they should be ready for picking in about two weeks.