Early inspections of freeze-damaged citrus in California’s Kern County pegged mandarin orange and lemon losses at around 20%, and navel losses at less than 5%.
But the week before Christmas, the toll of a Dec. 4-10 cold snap remained unclear there and in Fresno and Tulare counties.
“In the cuttings so far, as an average throughout the county we’re seeing about a 20% loss to mandarin and lemon crops,” Glenn Fankhauser, assistant director at the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards, said Dec. 18. “But until they ramp up picking and the damage becomes more apparent, we really don’t know. It’s ongoing.”
“The damage doesn’t seem widespread, but we are rejecting lots and bins that exceed the tolerance,” said Fred Rinder, Fresno County deputy agricultural commissioner. “Probably the most damage we’re seeing is in the cara cara navels and mandarins. Lemons are spotty and navels are hit and miss too.”
“We’ll be out there doing freeze (inspections) at least through late February,” Rinder said Dec. 19. “We haven’t even started our historically coldest period. We could easily have another freeze by the end of January that would throw everything caddywompus.”
Harvesting slowed down, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
“Growers are finding a lot of packable fruit, but they’re walking away from some blocks to give the damage time to manifest,” he said. “They’re finding good fruit in the interiors of those groves but are hesitant to run it because they can’t really identify the damage or do a good job of separating it.”
“I’m hearing more and more now is going straight to juice (plants) from the field,” said Gavin Iacono, Tulare County deputy agricultural commissioner. “The vesicles ruptured, so you’ve got free juice inside the fruit and now the warmer weather is starting to dry it out. It’s becoming easier to see damage.”
Temperatures reached the low 20s in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley during the weeklong cold snap. Frost protection measures were widely implemented. No more freezes were forecast as of Dec. 18, but the extent of warming — with daytime temperatures in the 60s and low 40s to 50 at night – was troubling in its own right.
“It does make it easier to separate damaged fruit from good fruit, but doesn’t give any marginal fruit a chance to recover,” Blakely said. “We don’t like to see it warm up real fast after a freeze. That accelerates and sometimes exacerbates the damage. But if it stays cold, minor damage will heal and the fruit will be marketable.”
Shippers agreed to hold fruit harvested after Dec. 11 for 48 hours to give inspectors time to check for damages.
The extent of losses, Blakely said, will depend on where growers are in the valley.
“It ranges from almost no damage to total loss,” he said. “To try to put an average on that is pretty difficult. Eventually we’ll have a number.”