Calif. citrus insider says damage estimates premature

A top citrus industry official says it's premature to speculate, as some packers have, that up to 50 percent of the state's navel and mandarin orange crop was lost because of last month's freeze. Government and industry officials are still determining the extent of damage and expect to have firmer numbers by late January, he said.
Tim Hearden

Capital Press

Published on January 3, 2014 11:18AM

Last changed on January 6, 2014 2:27PM

Capital Press

SACRAMENTO — A top citrus industry insider is downplaying estimates that freezing temperatures in December damaged or destroyed as much as half the state’s navel and mandarin orange crop.

Effects from the freeze that gripped the San Joaquin Valley for nearly a dozen nights last month are uneven, with some varieties and some areas being hit harder than others, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual in Exeter.

The organization is continuing to gather reports from shippers and growers and expects to have firmer numbers regarding damage later this month, Nelsen said.

“It is hard” gauging how much of the crop was hit by the freeze, he said.

“We’ve got better equipment in packing houses that can allow the guys to determine what fruit’s good and what’s not good, and we didn’t have that years ago,” he said. “And we know where there is good fruit, and we’ve done all of the cutting and picking of all the good fruit.

“We also know what areas are blasted, as we say – the ones that were farthest from the wind machines, so we know that fruit’s going to the juice bin as quickly as possible,” he said.

Nelsen’s comments come after some citrus packers estimated in news reports over the holidays that between 30 and 50 percent of the navel and mandarin crop was lost, though Citrus Mutual officials have said only that damage was “moderate.”

The state’s citrus industry spent $32.4 million using wind machines and irrigation equipment to protect the valley’s $1.5 billion crop from a freeze that lingered Dec. 3-11. Frigid nighttime lows returned later in the month, getting as low as 24 degrees in Merced on Dec. 28 and 26 degrees in Hanford two mornings earlier, according to the National Weather Service.

A massive number of state and county inspectors and industry officials have been in fields determining the extent of damage and how much fruit should be redirected to juice plants. This needed to be done on more than 200,000 acres between Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties to eliminate the bulk of the damage before harvesting for the fresh market, Citrus Mutual explained.

Growers in the valley’s coldest pockets have reported considerable damage, and a few small operations that didn’t have wind machines lost their entire crop, CCM director of industry relations Bob Blakely has said.

The season started well for navel oranges, with hot summer weather aiding maturity and providing good flavor in the earliest oranges picked, Nelsen said. However, a harvest season that typically wraps up in mid-summer will likely finish early because of the freeze, he said.


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