Central Valley farmers see minimal damage to citrus crops

Many citrus growers took a sigh of relief Sunday morning as overnight temperatures did not dip as low as originally projected.
December 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Many citrus growers were relieved Sunday morning as overnight temperatures did not dip as low as originally projected. Industry leaders say the freeze damage to the fruits was minimal.

Sunday will be the sixth night of cold temperatures. Citrus growers say even though the fruit survived each cold night, the low temperatures weaken the fruit's tolerance to the cold. So each night becomes more dangerous to the crops.

Like most citrus growers, Manuel Cuhna has a good idea when low temperatures have gotten the best of his fruits. So far his oranges, lemons and mandarins have held up fine against the elements.

Sunday Cuhna got his grove ready for another night frigid night. Irrigation water that pours out at about 55 degrees will help warm his citrus trees.

Cuhna turned on his wind machine to circulate the warm air above and bring it down to the trees. He said just because the fruits have survived consecutive nights of freezing temperature does not mean growers are out of the clear.

"The more nights the more days, the more ability to hurt the trees and to hurt the fruit," Cuhna said.

Like most growers Cuhna credits his crops survival to wind machines and warm water. But running them doesn't come cheap.

Members of the California Citrus Mutual, an association of citrus growers, estimate the industry has spent $17.5 million since Tuesday to protect the citrus. The crop is estimated at about $1.5 billion.

But two years ago industry leaders say growers spent 60 million to protect their crops from the cold.

"A few years ago we ran for 28 consecutive nights in December so when you got a couple billion dollars' worth of fruit out there it is millions well spent," Joel Nelson with the California Citrus Mutual said.

County assessors could begin their crop assessment damage as early as Monday.

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