Figuring out how much of the San Joaquin Valley's citrus crop was damaged by several nights of freezing temperatures has turned into a waiting game.
The region's citrus belt had been gripped by nearly a dozen nights of freezing temperatures with lows dropping down to the upper teens in the coldest spots of the Valley.
Now that the danger of a freeze is over for the moment, farmers and citrus industry leaders are hoping for a few days of warmer temperatures to help them determine how badly the fruit has been damaged.
After a freeze, it can take several days for damage to fully materialize in the inside of the fruit. In some cases, a freeze can cause fruit to develop open spaces between the segment walls. The segments also pull away from the rind and the juice sacks will dry out, making the fruit lighter.
"We know the damage is not going to go away," said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual. "But waiting a few days will help us make a better evaluation of how much damage there is."
To prevent damaged fruit from entering the marketplace, the industry has agreed to voluntarily wait 48 hours before shipping fruit harvested on or after Dec. 11 to allow the county agricultural commissioners office an opportunity to inspect the fruit.
Some of those inspections have already happened with mixed results. The citrus industry has 81 packing houses in the Valley.
"We are finding some damage in the packing houses," said Gavin Iacono, Tulare County deputy agricultural commissioner. "More than I would like."
In Fresno County, Fred Rinder, deputy agricultural commissioner, said his inspectors have rejected a few lots of citrus because of a high amount of damage. Those lots were repacked and reinspected. Any fruit that does not pass inspection will likely be sold to the juice plants.
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