(June 26) First came the January freeze that devastated citrus crops in California’s Fresno and Tulare counties. Now some grower-shippers in neighboring Kings County are battling drought conditions that could cause some supply problems for retailers.

Seasonal rainfall totals in western Kings County are as much as nine inches less than a year ago in a region where annual precipitation averages about 10 inches.

Acting on a request from the county’s board of supervisors, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a state of emergency declaration for the county, which ranked ninth among the state’s 58 counties in agriculture revenues last year.

“Some stone fruit growers have abandoned whatever’s left of their crops,” said county agriculture commissioner Tim Niswander, “and now they’re just trying to protect their trees.”

It is too early to estimate the magnitude of the damage to crops and revenues, Niswander said, but his staff has determined damage so far has cost growers $1.2 million. Kings County is on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Agriculture revenues for Kings County in 2006 were $1.1 billion. Stone fruit, table grapes, melons, corn, pomegranates and nuts accounted for about one-third of that total. Dairy products and cotton are the county’s top agriculture revenue producers.

“Some cotton growers switched to corn because that crop requires less water,” Niswander said. “Some cotton growers just gave up and plowed their fields.”

The governor’s declaration will enable grower-shippers to qualify for low interest loans and other insurance benefits.