As San Joaquin Valley citrus farmers continue their battle against subfreezing temperatures, county agriculture officials began pulling samples Friday -- a first step toward stopping bad fruit from reaching the marketplace.
Temperatures around the Valley's citrus belt dropped to dangerous levels for the third day in a row Friday morning. Lows around the Valley included 24 degrees in east Clovis, 22 degrees in Fowler and 25 degrees in Lindsay -- approaching record lows for the date in the region.
Another round of icy temperatures was expected Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday morning, there will be a mix of rain and snow on the Valley floor before 10 a.m., but there will be little to no snow accumulation, said Jim Andersen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, and the threat of showers was expected to decrease toward the afternoon.
The high temperature for Fresno was forecast to be 45.
To help fight the cold, growers continued to use wind machines, helicopters and irrigation water to protect the Valley's $1.5 billion citrus crop from serious harm.
California citrus industry officials say, so far, minimal damage is expected to the navel and lemon crop, but mandarins are a concern.
The thin-skinned mandarins are more susceptible to freezing temperatures. In some mandarin growing areas the thermometer dropped to the low 20s early Friday.
"We may see more damage in mandarins, we just don't know how much," said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual.
Blakely said it could be several weeks before growers and industry officials have a good grasp on how much of a blow this cold blast is to the citrus crop, much of which still remains on the tree. Only about 20% of the mandarin crop and 15% of the navel crop has been picked.
Keith Watkins, farm manager for Bee Sweet Citrus, a Fowler-based citrus grower, packer and shipper, said the farm company did not suffer any major damage on its ranches that stretch from Madera to Kern counties.
"So far, so good," Watkins said. "But I have another month and a half of cold weather to worry about."
In the Orange Cove area, David Roth, citrus grower and president of Cecelia Packing, said one ranch recorded temperatures in the mid-20s on the edges of the grove, but wind machines kept temperatures two to three degrees higher inside the grove.
"We are in pretty good shape with the protection we had," Roth said. "But we will probably see some damage on fruit that was on the exterior. Right now, we feel like we have dodged another bullet."
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agriculture commissioner, said that as a precaution the state has requested the county pull samples of oranges, mandarins and lemons from the coldest regions of the county. The state and the industry want to prevent any freeze-damaged fruit from making it to the grocery store.
The samples will be stored at room temperature for 72 hours and inspected by county staff for signs of damage. Depending on the percentage of damage, the state could require county inspectors to monitor for freeze damage in the region's citrus packing houses.
Fred Rinder, Fresno County's deputy agriculture commissioner, said the citrus samples will likely be cut into and inspected on Monday. The state could make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday about what action to take.
Valley warming centers currently open
Frank H. Ball Neighborhood Center, 760 Mayor Ave., Fresno; (559) 621-CITY (2489).
Fresno Rescue Mission, 310 G St., Fresno; (559) 268-0839.
Visalia Rescue Mission, 322 NE First Ave., Visalia; (559) 740-4178.
Longfield Center, 560 S. Douty St., Hanford (round the clock through Tuesday)
Visalia Rescue Mission Community Center, 741 N. Santa Fe St., Visalia.
Chowchilla Senior Center, 820 W. Robertson Blvd., Chowchilla; (559) 665-1089.
Frank Bergon Senior Center, 238 S. D St., Madera; (559) 673-4293.
Ranchos/Hills Senior Center, 37339 Berkshire Drive, Madera; (559) 645-4864.
Madera Rescue Mission, 332 Elm Ave., Madera; (559) 675-8321.
Pan Am Community Center, 703 E. Sherwood Way, Madera; (559) 675-2095.
Coarsegold Community Center, 35540 Highway 41, Coarsegold; (559) 683-7953.
Yosemite Lakes Park Clubhouse, 30250 Yosemite Springs Parkway, Coarsegold; (559) 658-7466.
Sierra Senior Center, 49111 Cinder Lane, Oakhurst; (559) 683-3811.
Tulare County residents can call 211 for information.
Staff writer Brianna Vaccari contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.