Citrus growers avoid major damage after hard freeze warning

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A hard freeze warning passed without major damage to the Valley's valuable citrus crop which is worth close to $2 billion.

Growers say frosty temperatures are needed to help bring their fruit to maturity - as long as they don't dip too low.

Navel oranges need the cold and the sight of freeze damage on leaves isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"These cold nights that we have, we're going alright, this is what we need," said

75% of the citrus crop is still on the tree.

But grower Tommy Wollenman says the cold helps ripen his fruit and halts new leaf growth.

"This winter has been a really warm winter and we need some of these 30 to 32 degree nights and really slow some of the trees down," Wollenmam said.

Growers have been running water in their groves to release the ground's warmth and then using wind machines to move that warmer air around within an inversion layer to raise temperatures a few degrees.

The thick rinds of navel oranges help them keep cool as if they were being stored in a refrigerator.

"At this time of the year your mandarins are the most susceptible fruit. They're smaller, thinner- skinned. Then the lemons. We have a lot of lemons yet to be harvested," said California Citrus Mutual CEO, Joel Nelsen.

California Citrus Mutual keeps close tabs on the frosty temperatures.

"But that brings on color and enhances the flavor," Nelsen said.

Overnight lows in the mid-30's aren't bad but growers always have their eyes on the thermometer.

"27 degrees is the point where ice crystals start to form internally in the fruit," said Wollenman.

Fortunately that is not in our immediate forecast.
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