Citrus growers lose $441 million from California freeze

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

The early December freeze in California's Central Valley caused $441 million in crop losses as about 30 percent of navel oranges and 40 percent of remaining mandarins were lost, according to an industry group.

SACRAMENTO — Citrus growers lost about $441 million in revenue because of the early December freeze in California’s Central Valley, as about 30 percent of navel oranges and 40 percent of remaining mandarins were destroyed, an industry group estimates.

Lemons fared slightly better, as only 20 percent of that crop was destroyed, the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual reported Feb. 3 after extensively examining orchards throughout the valley.

The state’s citrus industry has spent $49 million using wind machines and irrigation equipment to protect the valley’s $1.5 billion crop from frigid overnight temperatures that lingered Dec. 3-11 and returned on several nights since then.

“It’s shaping up to be a challenging year for growers, who are coming off the freeze and going into a drought year,” said Bob Blakely, CCM’s director of industry relations. “In some ways it’s uncharted territory.”

Blakely said about 90 percent of growers have purchased crop insurance which will cover the costs of continuing to farm, but “that doesn’t leave any room for extras,” he said. And in areas where water is available, it may become more expensive, he said.

Effects from the freeze were uneven, with some varieties and some areas being hit harder than others, Citrus Mutual officials have said. Kern County, for instance, has seen a greater degree of damage because of the timing of the freeze and the amount of fruit that was still on trees.

Mandarins were wiped out in some parts of Kern and Madera counties, while other areas saw damage as great as 50 percent, Citrus Mutual chairman Kevin Severns explained in a news release.

“Among the (growers) who were completely frozen out, some of those have already taken the fruit off and sent it to the juice plant,” Blakely said.

About 20 percent of the mandarin crop had been picked before the freeze hit. Among the remaining mandarins, the equivalent of 4.7 million 40-pound cartons were lost, meaning $150 million in lost revenue, CCM reported.

In addition, the equivalent of 22 million cartons of navel oranges were destroyed, causing $260 million in lost revenue, and 1 million cartons of lemons were lost, equating to a $24 million loss, according to Citrus Mutual.

Prices for oranges in the supermarket may increase slightly, but the industry is wary of raising prices to the point that consumers turn to offshore citrus or other types of fruit, CCM president Joel Nelsen said in the release. The freeze will likely shorten the harvest season, which could end in mid-May rather than early summer, industry officials have said.


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