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Freeze spares citrus, hits olives

Published on December 3, 2010 3:01AM

Last changed on December 31, 2010 8:40AM

Some growers report losses of 30 percent, olive leader says


Capital Press

California's citrus industry made it through the Thanksgiving freeze largely unscathed, but that wasn't the case for olives.

With harvest a few weeks late this year and with a heavy crop load prompting growers to leave fruit on the trees for size, some olives were left out in the cold, said Adin Hester, president of the Olive Growers Council of California in Visalia.

"We've got several thousand tons out yet that will probably not get picked because of frost damage," Hester said. "When it freezes the fruit, it makes the fruit itself worthless."

The freeze likely won't prevent table olives from surpassing the record of 163,000 tons delivered in 1992, Hester said. But for some individual farmers, losses were significant, he said.

One Northern California grower still had about 1,000 tons in his orchard, while a Visalia farmer had 60 acres left to pick out of 300, Hester said.

"They're just spot picking, trying to find fruit that may not have been damaged by the frost or fruit that's inside the tree," he said. "But it's hurt, there's no question."

Olives grown for oil were also hit, with some growers in the San Luis Obispo area facing crop losses of 20 percent to 30 percent, said Patty Darragh, executive director of the California Olive Oil Council in Berkeley.

Weather conditions have caused some hand-wringing this year among olive growers, who are otherwise enjoying a banner year after suffering through crop failures in three of the last four seasons.

From Nov. 25-27, temperatures dipped as low as 31 degrees in Fresno, 27 in Hanford, 27 in Merced and 28 in Madera. Redding reached a low of 27, and Red Bluff dipped to 29.

Rain on Saturday stopped the cold snap in most areas, and though cold temperatures briefly returned early this week, another series of storms were on the horizon.

In anticipation of the cold, citrus growers were irrigating and using wind machines to avoid damages like those suffered in 2007, when a freeze caused more than $1.4 billion in damage to citrus, avocados, strawberries, vegetables, nursery stock and other crops.

The wind machines were effective this time as temperatures in most orchards didn't go lower than about 30 or 31 degrees, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual in Exeter.

"We came through without any expected damage," Blakely said, adding that the cold weather probably helped some fruit bring out color and sugar.

Colder weather was welcomed in California vineyards, where they help grapevines go dormant for the winter, the California Farm Bureau Federation noted. Autumn rains and other issues pushed winegrape yields as much as 20 percent below average, though this year's wine vintage should achieve high quality, the Farm Bureau reported.

With the earlier-than-normal cold snap having ended for now, La Nina conditions are expected to persist over the next two weeks, with lots of precipitation in far Northern California and not as much in the San Joaquin Valley, according to AccuWeather.com's extended forecast.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center still expects above-normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and far Northern California over the next three months, with central California facing an equal chance of above- or below-average rainfall.

November rainfall

Here are the November and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of Tuesday, Nov. 30.

Redding: Month to date 2.25 inches (normal 3.89 inches); season to date 7.38 inches (normal 6.82 inches)

Sacramento: Month to date, 2.39 inches (normal 2.11 inches); season to date, 3.83 inches (normal 3.47 inches)

Stockton: Month to date, 2.38 inches (normal 1.71 inches); season to date, 3.81 inches (normal 2.96 inches)

Modesto: Month to date, 2.12 inches (normal 1.43 inches); season to date, 2.85 inches (normal 2.56 inches)

Salinas: Month to date, 2.03 inches (normal 1.41 inches); season to date, 2.70 inches (normal 2.34 inches)

Fresno: Month to date, 1.80 inches (normal 1.06 inches); season to date, 2.24 inches (normal 1.99 inches)


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