Valley citrus industry to lose $3B from drought

Valley growers are spending thousands of dollars to rip up citrus orchards, some dating back a hundred years.
Valley growers are spending thousands of dollars to rip up citrus orchards, some dating back a hundred years.

The owners of a property near Strathmore decided to rip up 20 acres of perfectly health citrus trees. They say with no water, this makes the most financial sense.

"We decided to take out this block and fallow it out until we can have a secure water source," said Citrus Grower Brian Neufeld. He manages the grove, and several others across the central valley. All of them, he says, face disaster.

The one near Strathmore will not receive any water from the Friant-Kern Canal, and the ground water isn't enough to support it.

Removal costs, just for that property, are $8,500. When the owner decides he can sustain a new orchard replanting will cost about $160,000. That is not even counting lost revenue from what were healthy trees. And insurance will cover none of this.

"We have never been in a situation like this," said Bob Blakely with the California Citrus Mutual. At best guess, Blakely says, 25-percent of all citrus orchards between Fresno and Kern counties could be impacted by the drought, costing $3 billion in losses over the next five year.

"It's sad to see trees that have been productive and sustaining families for 100 years dying because of lack of water," Blakely said.

A 50-year-old grove was ripped up near Orange Cove recently. The grower there is also faced with no water.

And, there's the trickle-down effect. "Beyond that it's the pickers, it's the packing houses, it's the shippers and ultimately it's the customers who are going to be losing out on this fruit," Neufeld said.



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