Valley growers prepare to protect citrus crops from cold weather

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Citrus season in the Central Valley is in high gear.

"We'll start with lemons now. We'll go through clementines, mandarins, oranges, grapefruit and navels all the way into late June, early July," says Nick Hill, the owner and operator of Green Leaf Farms.

Given the long-range forecast showing a colder and drier than average season, growers will have their work cut out for them.

Hill says because of the warm fall, citrus trees are still growing, meaning the recent colder temperatures are helping Valley citrus growers.

"When you get down to temperatures we're talking about the last few nights it's a good thing. It slows the trees down a little bit, shuts them off, hardens the wood off," he says.

But when they get too cold, growers take extra precautions, paying close attention to the forecast.

With a 7-10 day prep time, Hill says he and staff plot how to battle the elements with wind and water.

"The wind machines are tilted in such a way that the propellers will bring that warm air into the orchard and bring the orchard temperatures up anywhere from 3 - 7 degrees," says Hill.

He's run wind machines the last few nights but says temperatures aren't cold enough to warrant watering in the afternoons just yet.

As for the everyday homeowner who may have a citrus tree in their back yard...

"Hang a lightbulb in it, some kind of heat source. Wrapping it helps but you know I'd just tell them to get an old-style incandescent bulb, hang it in the tree. That will radiate enough heat it'll be just fine," Hill says.

Even Christmas tree lights work, but remember, LEDs don't generate heat.

For those who grow produce professionally, weather has not been the only challenge of 2020.

The onset of the pandemic meant that lemon prices dropped anywhere from 30% - 40%. That's because the service industry makes up most of that market, but fruits known to be rich in vitamin C such as oranges saw their prices go up.

But Nick says it's not just profits that motivate him and his staff.

"It's about a job, sure, but it's also about feeding America and it's about bringing a product that is safe and good quality to every American," he says.
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