California growers assessing damage from freeze

Young walnut trees grown by Crain Orchards in Red Bluff, Calif., withstood the hard freeze that gripped California's Central Valley earlier this month.

RED BLUFF, Calif. — Growers of citrus fruit and other crops in California are still assessing damage from about a week of freezing temperatures earlier this month.

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.

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

Improved irrigation systems and wind machine technology and better knowledge among growers likely minimized damage, said Bob Blakely, Citrus Mutual’s director of industry relations. Damage was reported in cold pockets, and a few small operations that didn’t have wind machines lost their entire crop, Blakely said earlier this month.

“They (growers) have learned over the years how many acres they can cover with wind machines,” he said. “The technology for knowing when to start the wind machines has gotten better. That’s one reason in recent years we’ve not sustained the damage we would have expected.”

Meanwhile, improved technology at the packinghouse has enabled processors to detect damage inside fruit, Citrus Mutual explained in a news release. This prevents damaged oranges and mandarins from reaching supermarket produce shelves.

Citrus fruit was among many crops put at risk by the freeze. Cold temperatures put an end to any strawberry production that was still going on in Watsonville and Santa Maria, and growers in Oxnard built fires in the field and used wind machines to spread the heat, said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission.

“We’ll know in the next few days how much bloom or fruit may have been damaged, but the plants were not damaged,” O’Donnell said.

In walnut orchards, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Janine Hasey urged growers to cut into some of their small trees to check for freeze damage. One problem is that soil was dry and much of it hadn’t been irrigated, which could make young trees more susceptible to freezing, she said.

At Crain Orchards here, water was turned on in fields with young trees to protect them against a hard freeze, farm manager Jud Pray said.

“Everything is in good shape,” he said.

Growers are also assessing frost damage on the winter wheat crop, about two-thirds of which had emerged by the end of last week, reported the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The hard freeze also stopped any further alfalfa production, according to NASS.

Significant damage was seen in peppers and other young row crops in the Coachella Valley, the California Farm Bureau Federation reported.


California Citrus Mutual:

California Strawberry Commission:

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