Mandarins and lemons especially susceptible to freeze damage

FRESNO, Calif.

Workers set to prune fruit trees were re-routed today to citrus orchards. Crews picking clementine mandarins in a south Fresno orchard were in a race against time. They expected to fill 15-hundred bins before temperatures took a dramatic drop.

Jim Bates of Fowler Packing explained, "We're stripping the fruit. Everything is removed."

Bates said all of the mandarins need to be harvested now because the fruit won't be worth picking on Thursday. The thinner peel isn't able to protect against the 23-to-24 degree temperatures expected in this orchard.

Bates said, "Right now we're reacting to the cold and trying to get, in our coldest blocks, coldest growing areas, our fruit removed from the trees."

Normally citrus isn't picked after it rains but by harvesting now, workers are helping to ensure a steady supply of clementines marketed as "cuties" at stores.

Lemon growers aren't so lucky. If it's not the right size it can't be picked. Lemons don't have the sugar content oranges have so they're more likely to sustain damage.

Peter Andersson of United California Citrus said, "Sugar is basically a natural anti-freeze so sugar freezes at a very low temperature."

Andersson will use wind machines and run water to warm his orchard tonight. He'll be up through the morning making the rounds in his truck. "I've got a digital thermometer here."

The early freeze is hitting citrus growers at a bad time. Andersson said, "You see how you look at the fruit there is a lot of green and very little yellow in there, it's a little immature so it's really susceptible."

Andersson prefers the cloudy skies. They bring more warmth but he's prepared for whatever Mother Nature has in store. "What happens happens."

Jim Bates said citrus growers really start to worry when temperatures drop below 28-degrees.

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