Valley citrus growers, fearing freeze damage, keeping fingers crossed

The Fresno BeeDecember 10, 2013 

After seven days of bitter cold temperatures, Tulare County citrus grower Vonnie Cary is crossing her fingers and hoping her citrus crop has not sustained significant damage.

Cary and other citrus growers in the San Joaquin Valley have been using wind machines and irrigation water to try to keep temperatures above critical levels. Growers were bracing Tuesday for at least one more night of freezing temperatures, before a gradual warming trend begins to settle in starting today.

Cary is worried because she has a block of Valencia oranges in the Lindcove area that does not have any wind protection from the frost -- just irrigation water. Temperatures in that region were in the low-20s on Sunday night and upper-20s on Monday night.

"Those were some of the toughest days," Cary said. "But at this point, there isn't much more you can do. You just have to buckle down and deal with the consequences."

Those consequences could include increased inspection at citrus packing houses to make sure no damaged fruit is sold to consumers.

As part of that effort, county agriculture officials are taking samples of navels, mandarins and lemons from the coldest areas of their counties. The fruit is held for 72 hours and then cut into and inspected. County officials cut into some fruit on Monday and found damage ranging from minimal to moderate.

On Thursday and Friday, inspectors in Tulare and Fresno counties will be examining fruit that has been through at least six days of freezing temperatures.

"That will give us a better reflection of what the industry will be facing," said Gavin Iacono, Tulare County deputy agricultural commissioner.

Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, said most of the fruit that was hit by the freeze is not expected to make it to the region's packing houses for at least a week to 10 days. Many packing houses harvested extra fruit before the freeze and stored it.

"That is the fruit that the packing houses are working off of right now," Blakely said. "It gives us some time to sort things out before any damaged fruit starts showing up."

Citrus growers may be getting some good news ahead as overnight temperatures are expected to gradually warm up throughout the Valley. Overnight temperatures in Fresno are forecast at 34 degrees for tonight and early Thursday morning, meteorologist Jim Bagnall said. Today's high in Fresno is expected to reach 57. Thursday and Friday's lows are forecast to dip only to the mid to upper 30s.

"There is a warming trend, but we're still going to see areas reaching below-freezing temperatures for the next two nights" Bagnall said Tuesday.

By Friday overnight temperatures on the Valley floor are expected to begin rising into the low to mid 30s.

Bee staff writer Diana Aguilera contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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