Citrus growers monitor their crops during frosty nights

FRESNO, Calif.

Last night-- growers spent another night wide awake monitoring their crop.

The central valley's citrus crop survived a frosty night.

This is what it looked like in Fresno County early Friday morning. Down in Tulare County, citrus grower Nick Hill kept his fruit warm enough...using the latest in wind machine technology.

"As soon as this reading hits 29.4 degrees it'll kick the wind machine on it'll idle and then it'll start it up it's all a hydraulic clutch it all works automatically," Hill said.

A thermometer out in the field tells the machine to turn on-- when it hits 29.4 degrees and turn off when the orchard is at a safe, 32 degrees.

The technology doesn't come cheap. Each of these wind machines cost $33,000 -about $10,000 more than the ones that operate manually.

But Hill says he saves money every night it gets cold. "In fuel costs alone I'm saving anywhere from a third to a half. They do that good of a job of monitoring temperatures turning themselves on and off."

Hill has 27 of these high-tech wind machines. He says they'll pay themselves off in the next 3-5 years.

Whatever the cost, its priceless reassurance that the more sensitive mandarins and lemons will survive the winter.

"I grow a lot of specialties lemons are my biggest concern they're low in sugar and they take damage pretty easily."

With last night's temperatures lower than the night before--hill and a crew of 6 people still spent the night wide awake monitoring the machines, temperatures and their crop. It appears everything survived. In fact, the cold weather helped their fruit reach its potential.

30-35-degree weather makes for a thicker skin, gives the citrus a nice color, and actually makes the trees stronger.

"It puts the tree in a semi-dormant state so you don't get as much tissue damage as the trees that have been growing thru the fall."

Hill says growers are still concerned about the rest of the winter, that dry, dangerously low temps will return before harvest time.

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