Lump of coal in citrus stocking

12/19/2013 04:57:00 PM
Mike Hornick

Mike Hornick, Staff WriterMike Hornick, Staff WriterFor the San Joaquin Valley’s earliest big chill in more than 25 years, California citrus growers spent $32.4 million on seven days of frost protection.

As I write we’re still awaiting damage estimates on mandarins and navels, expected to vary by grove from manageable to major.

Obviously irrigation and wind machines will keep more volume in the fresh market than otherwise possible after the early December freeze.

But fruit that was damaged anyway? Man, that’s some expensive orange juice.

The processed market, final resting place for frost-nipped citrus, just covers harvesting costs.

That $32.4 million figure prompted a fair amount of shock and awe — even some rubbernecking — among market watchers.

But it wouldn’t be exceptional if this were later in the season. In the 2011-12 winter, growers spent $100 million by late January — double to triple normal seasonal expenses.

It hasn’t gotten that ugly this time, but maybe we’re on the way. A week of freeze could prove more dire than some scattered weekends.

Hard times

It’s been a rough few months for California citrus.

Sweet orange scab turned up in Imperial County and other parts of the state. It makes fruit ugly, but leaves quality otherwise intact.

Moreover, the industry is still waiting on China to lift the ban on California exports begun in April after a discovery of brown rot in some shipments.

China was lost as an outlet for our valencias and, so far, our navels.

Chile is down 10% or so in weather losses on tree fruit. If China does reopen and U.S. buyers shift some attention from mandarins to navels after the freeze, California growers might taste a little Christmas cheer yet.

Some were increasing their navel prices as the holiday neared.

Others will just want to cut their losses.

Ho, ho, ho.

mhornick@thepacker.com

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