Valley citrus growers welcome rain despite inconvenience

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Recent rains created some sloppy conditions in Valley citrus groves, putting any picking operations on hold for now.

But it's a minor inconvenience compared to the benefits growers see with the current weather conditions.

California Citrus Mutual says it's probably a little colder right now than it was this time last year, but they say that's actually a pretty good thing for growers.

As they enter the winter season, Valley citrus growers will keep a close watch on their fruit.

Sustained sub-freezing temperatures during the night can have devastating impacts on the crops.

But no one is hitting the panic button yet.

As far as citrus goes, the experts say mandarins and lemons are most susceptible to freeze damage.

Fourth-generation citrus grower Don Stutsman has about ten acres of lemons outside his home north of Exeter and another eight acres of Valencia oranges.

He hasn't had to run his wind machines or turn on his pumps yet - the two most common and effective ways to raise temperatures in citrus groves when temps drop below freezing.

"A few nights in the low 30s are ideal because the trees go into dormancy, the fruit toughens up a little, the rind on the fruit gets a little tougher, and it's all to the good, so we're very pleased to see the rain and the storm come in," Stutsman says.

He explains that a tougher fruit will be easier to pick and handle at harvest.

He also appreciated the recent rain - it will help meet his future irrigation needs.

Also, it will benefit the fruit - making it a bit bigger.

Stutsman says growers like him have been lucky.

There hasn't been a severe freeze in years.

He thinks that might mean we're overdue.

But he hopes it's not anytime soon.

According to the recently released Tulare County crop report, navel and Valencia oranges are the third most valuable commodities, with a total value of more than $821 million.
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