California citrus season shortened by December freeze

Consumers will have less time to get their hands on California citrus this year because of a cold snap in early December that damaged $441-million worth of fruit in the San Joaquin Valley, an industry study released Monday said.

The availability of fruits like mandarin and navel oranges will last only through mid-May rather than the traditional season that extends into July, according to California Citrus Mutual, a trade association representing more than two-thirds of the state’s citrus farmers.

Mandarins, with their thinner rind, were hit the hardest by the December freeze, which lasted seven consecutive nights.

About 20% of the valley’s mandarin crop was harvested before the cold spell. An estimated 40% of the crop that remained on trees were lost. That amounts to 4.7-million 40-pound cartons and $150 million in lost revenue.

About 30% of the navel crop was lost in the valley, the heart of the state’s agriculture industry. That amounted to 22 million 40-pound cartons or $260 million worth of navels.  

Valley lemon producers lost 20% of their crop, equal to $24 million in lost revenue.

“A slight increase in price might recover some loss, however the industry is wary of fruit becoming too expensive,” said Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. “History tells us that higher prices result in demand for offshore citrus or alternative commodities.”

California Citrus Mutual estimates farmers spent $49 million to protect their crop by using wind machines and irrigation to combat the freeze in their groves.

“The industry is now faced with increased costs associated with quality inspections,” said Kevin Severns, chairman of California Citrus Mutual and general manager of Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Assn., a cooperative packing house. “Fruit is moving through the packinghouses at a much slower rate as we employ freeze detection technology as well as human inspection protocol.”


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