Freeze warning adds to Valley tree fruit growers' woes

The Fresno BeeFebruary 4, 2014 

Tree fruit orchards are blooming a few weeks earlier than normal this year, causing concern among growers that the potential of frost damage remains a real possibility.

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San Joaquin Valley citrus farmers are not the only ones fretting about freezing temperatures these days. Tree fruit growers also are getting a little antsy over the potential for frost damage.

A warmer than normal winter has accelerated the blossoms on the Valley's fruit trees, making them more susceptible to damage from freezing temperatures.

Industry officials say the tree fruit orchards are developing 10 to 18 days ahead of schedule.

"It is a real concern," said Daniel Jackson, an owner of Family Tree Farms in Reedley. "When you start seeing blossoms on the trees this early, you know they can be hurt by a freeze."

Although a freeze warning was issued for parts of the San Joaquin Valley for early today, Jackson did not expect major problems.

"But we also know this may not be the last time we have a freeze," Jackson said.

Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based Grape and Tree Fruit League, said growers realize it's still possible for a freeze to hit as late as March or April.

"And we are still in February," Bedwell said.

Jackson hopes the cooler weather that has settled into the Valley will slow the fruit trees' development so the trees can bloom at a more normal pace.

"We have had one of the warmest Januarys that I can remember," Jackson said. "And it has caused the early blooming."

Tree fruit expert Maxwell Norton, a University of California farm adviser, said fruit trees are most susceptible to frost damage once the blossoms drop and the baby fruit begins developing.

"It can be 30 degrees for 30 minutes and we won't see too many problems," Norton said. "But if it stays that low for five hours then we could start seeing some damage."

To combat freezing temperatures, tree fruit growers have fewer options than citrus growers who rely on wind machines and irrigation water. Tree fruit growers only have irrigation water available to try to warm surface temperatures.

The warmer-than-normal weather has not affected almonds as much as tree fruit.

Dave Baker, director of member relations at Blue Diamond, said there are only scattered blossoms in the Valley's almond orchards.

"We still have a few days to go before we start seeing blooms on the trees," Baker said.

Almond trees also are more frost tolerant than tree fruit crops.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, brodriguez@fresnobee.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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