Citrus Growers Embrace Cold Fear It Could Stay

December 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Citrus growers in the Valley are facing another night of cold weather that tests the threshold and quality of their product.                  |   Watch Video Above for Extended Coverage   |

Cold weather adds color to oranges and increases the sweetness inside. Growers welcome it but they do not welcome extended periods of cold under 29 degrees.

"It's a good size orange. It's perfectly colored. Good to be sold," said Carlos Ochoa.

Ochoa knows what it takes to grow oranges when the cold comes creeping in. He's only 18 and already managing the family citrus grove in Orange Cove. "If the freeze hits us or goes very low and we don't take care of this we might lose this and be able to sell it," he said.

That's why Ochoa is pumping water through his groves to warm the air. He also has wind machines to help with that too. Ochoa does not want a repeat of 2007's devastating freeze which lasted several days and crippled the local citrus industry. Millions of dollars were lost and groves were destroyed. Two years later Ochoa's groves are just starting to rejuvenate and could finally turn a real profit.

Ochoa: "It takes time for the trees to recover all the things that they lost from the freeze."

Ochoa is receiving hourly, local temperature updates from the California Citrus Mutual (CCM).

"We have 26 monitoring stations through out the citrus belt," said Bill Blakely, director at the CCM.

Blakely was closely monitoring Monday night's valley wide temperatures. "We estimate that our industry probably spent close to 4-million dollars last night running irrigation, wind machines," he said.

Blakely said growers cannot sustain back to back cold snaps of 29 degrees or colder.

Blakely: "After tonight we'll be back in a warming trend and temperatures will moderate and we'll be back up in the low 30s."

Wind machines and water can elevate grove temperatures by 3 to 4 degrees. Blakely said even colder weather will likely happen in the weeks to come. So if growers escape damage Tuesday night, they may still have reason to worry.


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