Citrus, lettuce are damaged as bitter cold grips western U.S.

California citrus growers reported damage to crops as bitter cold gripped the West, and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona.
By GOSIA WOZNIACKA Published: January 15, 2013
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As an unusual cold spell hits parts of the West for a fifth day, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona.

The extreme chill in the West comes as the eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing springlike weather.

In California's San Joaquin Valley, where farmers are fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on their trees, Sunday temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in some areas and stayed low longer than previous nights.

Prolonged temperatures in the mid-20s or below cause damage to citrus crops.

“It was our coldest night to date,” said Paul Story, of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state's 3,900 citrus growers. “I think mandarin growers are going to see a range of significant damage, enough that they will have to separate their crops.”

Mandarins are more susceptible to cold than other citrus and start to freeze about 32 degrees, Story said. Because many mandarin trees were planted in recent years as the fruit's popularity soared, they are grown in colder areas outside the traditional citrus belt.

Sugar inhibits freeze

Other citrus crops saw little or minimal damage, Story said. This year's high sugar content in oranges helped protect them, he said, because sugar inhibits freezing.

Growers deployed wind machines to keep the warm air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise the temperature in the groves. Rows farthest away from the protection could be damaged, Story said. And farmers who do not have wind machines could lose crops.