Valley ag officials turn freeze focus from orchards to packinghouses

The Fresno BeeDecember 11, 2013 

JRW  FREEZE 2

Oranges are protected by irrigation water in the citrus grove of Sanger area grower W.M. Boos last week for protection against the freeze.

JOHN WALKER — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

The concern over how much damage the San Joaquin Valley's citrus crop has endured is shifting from the groves to the industry's packinghouses, as freezing temperatures continue to pose problems for farmers and the homeless.

State and county agriculture officials are asking the citrus industry's packers to wait 48 hours to pack any fruit picked on or before Dec. 11, to allow the county time to inspect the citrus.

Industry officials and government regulators say they are trying to prevent consumers from getting any freeze-damaged fruit.

"We want consumers to rest assured that the industry is doing the best they can to keep damaged product out of the market," said Fred Rinder, Fresno County deputy agricultural commissioner.

The Central Valley is home to 81 citrus packinghouses that are bustling this time of year. The state produces 85% of the nation's fresh year-round citrus supply with much of it centered in the San Joaquin Valley.

Packinghouse operators say the waiting period is an unfortunate outcome of dealing with eight days of freezing temperatures. And growers must brace for one more night of freezing temperatures. The National Weather Service says a hard-freeze warning remains in effect until today at 8 a.m.

"A two-day wait period for packing will be costly to the industry, but it is a small price to pay to guarantee a quality product reaches the market," said Kevin Severns, California Citrus Mutual board chairman and general manager of Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association. "Sustaining our reputation as the top producer in the country of fresh citrus is something the California citrus industry will not sacrifice."

The waiting period is not expected to create any delays in fruit, citrus industry officials said. Packing houses harvested enough fruit prior to the freeze to supply the market through the holidays.

While the Valley's citrus industry works on weeding out damaged citrus fruit, many of Fresno's homeless continue to flock to warming centers for shelter from the cold.

"I know we are seeing more people this year than last year," said Kyle Jeffcoach, a community recreation supervisor who is running the city-operated warming center at Frank H. Ball Neighborhood Center, 760 Mayor Ave. "This year, we've had a longer cold streak. We are at 10 days right now, where last year the most we had was a four or five-day cold streak."

The southwest Fresno warming center has had between 22 and 28 homeless a night, Jeffcoach said.

The warming center will be open until further notice from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. City FAX buses are providing free transportation to and from the center on Route 34 bus. Anyone with questions about the warming center or transportation can call the city at (559) 621-CITY (2489).

At the Fresno Rescue Mission, 310 G. St., on average there's been between 20 and 35 homeless each night, said the Rev. Larry Arce, its chief executive officer.

More people have flocked to the mission this year than last year, Arce said, because the city no longer allows homeless to leave their encampments up longer than a night.

The mission is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. anytime the temperature drops below 34 degrees, and offers free meals, clothing and hot showers. Monetary donations for the nonprofit are always needed and helpful, Arce said.

"For anyone out on the street, their life is in jeopardy," Arce said. "There are so many factors -- not just trying to live and survive, but mental health issues, people not able to help themselves. Thank God we have the mission."

Thursday's and Friday's forecast for Fresno calls for a high of 58 degrees and a low of 35-36 degrees. Saturday and Sunday will be slightly warmer with highs in the upper 50s and low 60s. Overnight temperatures will stay above freezing at 36 to 38 degrees.

The reporters can be reached at (559) 441-6330, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or cgeorge@fresnobee.com.

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