The last of about 6,000 orange trees are scheduled to be removed today from farmland on the edge of Irvine despite the protests of nearby residents who said the groves are a pleasant reminder of the area’s agrarian past.
Workers began cutting down the rows of Valencia orange trees Monday, to the surprise of some Northwood village residents who live near the Jeffrey Road farm.
“We didn’t know about it until it was too late. That’s why we are so mad,” said resident Anita Pappas. “The groves are very peaceful. They give the feeling of being in the country.”
Officials from Sun World, an agriculture firm that leases the farmland from the Irvine Co., said the trees are being removed to make way for more lucrative “row crops.”
Many of the trees are 30 years old and no longer produce the high-quality fruit needed to be competitive in the world market, said Alan Reynolds, general manager of Sun World.
“The trees only have a productive life span of about 25 years,” Reynolds said. “The quality of the fruit has been poor. We’ve been losing money (on the orange groves) for several years.”
Once the trees are removed, Sun World plans to grow barley or other types of grain on the land until a permanent crop is selected.
“As the costs go up and land availability goes down, the type of crops you grow (must) have more potential for value,” Reynolds said.
But that argument has done little to quell the concerns of residents who said the thousands of trees acted as a barrier against freeway noise.
Until about two years ago, orange trees lined both sides of Jeffrey Road near Trabuco Road. Then, hundreds of trees were removed to make way for a flood control project.
Residents see this week’s action as the end of an era. They also fear the removal will only worsen the neighborhood’s severe rodent problem as the rats who feed off the oranges look for new homes and food.
But county vector control officials said that the removal might actually reduce the area’s rat population in the long run.
“The rats like the citrus groves. They are a major source of rats,” said Jim Webb, a county vector ecologist. “If (the trees) are cut, there might be (fewer) rats in the future.”