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California citrus crop escapes serious freeze damage

by Rand Green | December 10, 2009
Citrus growers in California's San Joaquin Valley spent the nights of Dec. 7-8 taking intensive measures to protect their crops from freezing temperatures and managed to avert serious damage, according to press advisories issued Dec. 9 by California Citrus Mutual in Exeter, CA.

However, "growers are anticipating reduced utilization because of ice marking," the advisory said. Ice marking is "a surface blemish that creates defects [and increases the chance of] bacteria development and premature decay. This fruit will not be packed, thereby reducing the number of cartons available for fresh consumption this season."

It will take at least a week for the ice marking to become visible, "therefore utilization loss at this time is undetermined," the advisory stated. "Because rain occurred immediately prior to freezing temperatures, the trees and fruit did not have time to dry" before the freeze, which contributed to the ice marking.

Temperatures in parts of the San Joaquin Valley had dipped to 28 degrees by 9 p.m. on the night of Monday, Dec. 7, and many growers ran wind machines and employed other temperature-mitigating methods through the night and into the morning hours, then repeated the same activities the following night and morning when temperatures dropped again. CCM estimated that over $4 million were spent on frost protection on each night and that "an estimated 17,000 wind machines were in operation to protect the billion-dollar crop" of Navel oranges, lemons, mandarins and other citrus varieties.

The AccuWeather forecast on the afternoon of Dec. 9 predicted that overnight temperatures Wednesday night and Thursday morning would again dip below freezing in some parts of the valley but not as low as the previous two nights, with a warming trend following.