California citrus growers fight off cold spell

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm •  Published: December 6, 2013

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Citrus grower Fred LoBue breathed a sigh of relief on Friday after two sleepless nights monitoring the icy temperatures in his family's Central Valley orange groves.

The 73-year-old farmer had managed to protect most of his 1,000 acres of citrus from a freeze that threatened crops throughout the state, but he could face a deeper chill next week.

"They're talking some seriously cold temperatures," said LoBue, who has been growing citrus for about half a century.

Growers across California have toiled this week to protect the state's prized $2 billion a year citrus industry and other key crops such as lettuce and avocados from the cold snap that engulfed the state, dropping temperatures to levels that can damage fruit and delay the harvest of greens.

Some damage is expected to the mandarin and navel orange crops in the Central Valley but the extent is still unknown. Any losses likely won't be known for several weeks, though the industry does not expect a dramatic impact on supply or price, according to California Citrus Mutual, an association of growers.

Citrus farmers are no strangers to cold and use irrigation and wind machines to propel warm air through the fields and raise the temperature by several degrees after nightfall. Farmers are on the lookout once temperatures drop to 28 degrees and anything in the low-20s is critical, said Bob Blakely, the association's director of industry relations.

Temperatures fell to near record lows early Thursday and Friday in Fresno at 28 degrees. A storm system was expected to increase those temperatures to around freezing early Saturday and could bring snowflakes to the valley floor, said Modesto Vasquez, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

Another surge of cold air will then drive temperatures lower again, he said.

Citrus farmers have spent $12.4 million since the cold snap began to try to warm up the fields, the growers' association said. Of key concern is the mandarin crop, because the tiny fruit is thinner-skinned than other oranges, making it more susceptible to cold.

Ben Yosako, an inspector for the Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner's office, said fruit samples have been collected and will be stored at room temperature, then cut open Monday to evaluate the damage.

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