Fresno County citrus farmers scramble to protect harvest from freezing temperatures

FRESNO COUNTY (KFSN) -- The frosty weekend weather had Valley citrus growers concerned. With temperatures dropping to below freezing in many areas, growers took steps to ward off the cold.

Growers turned on their wind machines and water to stave off the cold and it worked. Many growers said they got just cold enough to help the fruit without causing damage, and they're hoping the pattern of moist, foggy nights and chilly, but not freezing temperatures, continues.

It's the time of year when citrus growers watch the weather and lose a lot of sleep.

"I was nervous," citrus grower Keith Nilmeier said. "And it was funny because it got cold very quickly, and it was colder than the night before by a degree to two degrees."

The Fresno County farmer was among those activating wind machines and running water through their groves to keep the air moist enough to keep the temperature up just enough to protect the fruit.

"It doesn't sound like much, but one degree is all it takes," Nilmeier explained.

Fortunately, fog rolled in, helping keep things just warm enough. Nilmeier says the chill actually turned out to be just what the trees needed.

"The cold we've had the last few nights is kind of a good thing," he said. "Because it puts more color into the fruit, more sugar into the fruit, it makes a better piece of fruit. We need cold too, but we just don't want that below 28 degrees."

But growers never know for sure, and the California Citrus Mutual estimates growers spent $25 million just over the past weekend to keep the temperature up.

This year's crop appears to be better than average. The typical tree is expected to product 348 oranges. That's up by 50 from last year, but the weather watching will continue for at least the next six weeks or so.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.