Frost-related damage gradually became obvious in California citrus groves after cold December weather.
Frost-related damage gradually became obvious in California citrus groves after cold December weather.

(UPDATED COVERAGE Feb. 6) San Joaquin Valley citrus growers lost about $441 million in revenue to crop damage from the seven-day freeze in December that are expected to shorten the season.

Shipments will end in mid-May instead of July, according to a damage estimate by Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

Losses totaled 40% of mandarins still unharvested by mid-December; 30% for navel oranges; and 20% for lemons.

About 80% of the mandarin crop was still on the tree when the freeze hit. Losses there total $150 million, or 4.7 million 40-pound cartons.

Across the valley, 22 million cartons of navels valued at $260 million were lost, according to the trade group. Lemon losses were 1 million cartons, a $24 million hit.

“A slight increase in price might recover some loss, however the industry is wary of fruit becoming too expensive,” California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said in a news release. “History tells us that higher prices result in demand for offshore citrus or alternative commodities.”

Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific, which owns the Cuties mandarin brand, estimated Cuties losses as high as 40% in some blocks, said Barney Evans, the company’s owner and vice president of sales.

Sun Pacific’s navel losses were an estimated 30-35%, and Evans expects that number to increase as fruit continues to dehydrate. Lemon losses for the company are in the 20-25% range.

“The situation in California is not good,” Evans said. “We still believe that we will continue shipping navels into June, and Cuties into April, but it is a very painful and slow process.”

Navel first grade size 88s, for example, shipped from California for mostly $17.80 to $18.90 on Feb. 3, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year ago the same size went for about $9.75.

Producers ran wind machines both before and after the main freeze event. The industry has spent $49 million on frost protection so far this season, including January.

The scattered nature of the damage made it difficult to estimate, said Kevin Severns, general manager of Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association and chairman of California Citrus Mutual.

“Mother Nature did not treat all areas and producers equally,” Severns said in the release. “There are areas in Kern and Madera counties where the mandarins are completely wiped out and others where damage is as great as 40% to 50%.”

Kern was the hardest-hit county overall.

For navels, most producers lost 10% to 20%, while one unnamed grower reported losing everything.

“The industry is now faced with increased costs associated with quality inspections,” Severns said. “Fruit is moving through the packinghouses at a much slower rate as we employ freeze detection technology as well as human inspection protocol.”

Production in Ventura, Riverside, Imperial, and Monterey counties was not affected.

Markets Editor Andy Nelson contributed to this story.