Citrus growers on alert as temperatures drop quickly

FRESNO, Calif.

By 6 p.m. Monday evening, the temperature was already below 40 degrees in a Northeast Fresno orchard, offering an early glimpse of the battle ahead.

"It's going to get cold, it's going to get cold early which means we're going to have a significant number of hours below freezing, as many as 12 to 14 hours below 32 degrees," said Bob Blakely, the Director of Industry Relations with California Citrus Mutual.

Because of the duration of the freezing temperatures, Blakely said Monday may have been the most critical night for growers so far.

In December alone, growers spent nearly $90 million to protect their crops against freeze damage. That fight isn't over yet.

"We had more consecutive nights in December of last year than we've had in the last 25 to 30 years. But the temperatures did not stay in that range that long," said Blakely.

While growers ran water and wind machines in an effort to bring up temperature, staff at H &E Nursery in Northwest Fresno also took extra measures to protect their citrus plants.

Assistant manager Natalie Williams said freeze cloth works best to protect plants against freeze damage but you can also use tarps or sheets as long as they don't touch the plants directly. "You want to create an artificial airspace, a pocket if you will, around the plants so they have some space and the air is nice and warm in there," said Williams.

While a freeze cloth will only set you back about $15, growers are up for a much more expensive fight against the freeze. "It's $500 to $550,000 per acre for the acreage we have in the Central Valley, so you can do the math. If it's 10-12 hours, we could easily be looking at our growers spending $5 or 6 million tonight," said Blakely.

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