California freeze bites into trade groups’ budgets

02/08/2007 12:00:00 AM
Don Schrack

(Feb. 8) As California citrus grower-packers scramble to salvage what little healthy fruit is still on the trees after the January freeze, the organizations that support the citrus industry are looking at doing their jobs on shoestring budgets.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said the loss of dues is painful.

“We’ll lose more than 50% of our budget for the balance of the fiscal year,” Nelsen said.

Dues grower-shippers pay to Citrus Mutual are on a per-carton basis, Nelsen said, and more than 70% of the navel orange and lemon crops were still on the trees when the low temperatures hit.

Some growers have been able to reduce losses by selling fruit to juice processors, but the citrus group’s dues are based only on packed fruit.

“The board is adamant there will be no staff cuts,” Nelsen said.

He said Citrus Mutual is fortunate in that it has strong reserves, but they will be exhausted by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

There are pockets in the San Joaquin Valley that were not totally devastated by the freeze, Nelsen said, mostly tucked up against the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Each grower, Nelsen said, would have to determine whether there was a sufficient supply of healthy oranges on the trees to make harvesting financially feasible. Labor is the big issue, he said.

“This year, the average navel tree had about 600 pieces of fruit on it and not all of them survived the freeze,” Nelsen said. “With 120 trees to 130 trees per acre, it’s going to be labor intensive to inspect each tree for healthy fruit.”

Ted Batkin, president of the Citrus Research Board, Visalia, Calif., said the effects of the freeze will reduce his $3 million annual budget by one-third, but no staff cuts are planned. All non-essential research has been put off until next year, he said.

It’s the same story at the California Citrus Growers Association, Visalia.

Charlie Matthews, president of the association said, “Any time there’s a negative impact on growers and packinghouses, we will encounter similar problems.”



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