Group: December freeze cost Valley citrus an estimated $441 million

FRESNO, Calif.

In early December, citrus growers in the Valley were hit with seven consecutive nights of subfreezing temperatures. The continuous cold morning meant that citrus growers around the Valley has to use frost protection devices such as wind machines and helicopters for at least 5 hours per night, and up to 20 hours per day, during the cold spell.

California Citrus Mutual said they estimate that Valley citrus growers spent about $49 million to protect their crops. They said Kern County was hit especially hard because of the timing of the freeze event and the amount of fruit that was still on the trees.

"What has made this year complicated for assessing damage is that Mother Nature did not treat all areas and producers equally," says Citrus Mutual Chairman and General Manager of Orange Cove - Sanger Citrus Kevin Severns. "There are areas in Kern and Madera Counties where the Mandarins are completely wiped out, and others where damage is as great as 40-50 percent."

The same can be said for the Valley's Navel orange crop. "It's a mixed bag," continues Severns. "We know of one grower who lost 100% of his tonnage, whereas most producers lost 10-20%."

The group said the Mandarin crop suffered significant damage. At the time of the freeze, approximately 20 percent of the crop had been harvested. They said about 40 percent of the remain crop was lost due to the freeze -- worth about $150 million.

Citrus mutual said about 30 percent of the more freeze tolerant Navel crop was lost to freeze damage Valley wide. They said that loss is worth about $220 million.

The group said lemons suffered a 20 percent loss -- worth about $24 million.

"A slight increase in price might recover some loss, however the industry is wary of fruit becoming too expensive," says Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. "History tells us that higher prices result in demand for offshore citrus or alternative commodities."

California Citrus Mutual says the loss will likely create a shortened citrus season with fresh shipments ending in mid-May, rather than into July.

"The industry is now faced with increased costs associated with quality inspections," concludes Severns. "Fruit is moving through the packinghouses at a much slower rate as we employ freeze detection technology as well as human inspection protocol.

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