UPDATED: California citrus survives freezing temperatures

12/08/2009 11:36:24 AM
Don Schrack

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Dec. 9) Minimal damage was reported after below-freezing temperatures visited California’s San Joaquin Valley on the nights of Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.

Temperatures dipped into the mid- to upper 20s both nights.

“We don’t expect that we have any significant internal damage,” said Bob Blakely, director of industrial relations for California Citrus Mutual, Exeter. “In general, we came through it in good shape.”

The damage could result in higher f.o.b.s in the near term.

“I think we’ll see supplies tightening, and that’s probably going to result in some cases where demand exceeds supply,” Blakely said. “Whether that’s going to be significant enough to cause higher prices for the consumer remains to be seen.” 

The cost to growers for freeze protection measures — operating wind machines and running irrigation water — was about $4 million each night, Blakely said. Those efforts kept internal damage to a minimum and likely occurred in outlying areas, he said, or where the wind machines went down for an extended period.  

“The biggest problem is going to be from the ice marking on the first night of the freeze,” Blakely said.

Rain earlier in the day left water droplets on the fruit. The resulting ice can create surface blemishes that may permit bacteria to develop and hasten decay.

“We’ll start seeing that in a couple of weeks, but that fruit won’t go to the fresh market,” Blakely said.

When the extent of the ice marking becomes visible, growers will be able to determine the percentage of the crop that will be lost to the fresh market, he said.

Kern County, at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and the Riverside, Coachella and Ventura growing regions escaped the freezing temperatures.

About 20% of the 2009-10 California navel crop has been harvested, according to Citrus Mutual figures.

Temperatures were expected to moderate as a warmer storm was forecast to arrive in the San Joaquin Valley late Dec. 9.

“I think we’re through the worst of it,” Blakely said.

In January 2007, temperatures plunged into the low 20s as a brutal weeklong arctic storm destroyed about $1 billion of the state’s $1.8 billion annual citrus crops. Hard freezes in 1998 and 1990 caused similar devastation. 



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