California citrus growers brace for cold this week

California’s $2-billion citrus industry is bracing for an Arctic chill later this week that could wreak havoc across the San Joaquin Valley.

Temperatures are expected to reach lows of around 30 degrees in the Fresno area starting Thursday and last several days.

Citrus growers are preparing to soak their groves with water to raise ground temperatures. Farmers are also readying wind machines to circulate the warm air if necessary.

“Citrus will be the main crop under threat,” said Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “Generally, for damage to occur, temperatures have to drop into the mid-20s for several hours at a time.”

Oranges and lemons are damaged when exposed to temperatures of 28 degrees or less. Mandarins with their thin rinds are even less tolerant and experience damage at 32 degrees.


Working in growers’ favor this year is the higher sugar content much of the fruit is exhibiting this season, said Alyssa Houtby, a spokeswoman for California Citrus Mutual, a trade association representing more than two-thirds of the state’s citrus farmers.

“Water freezes faster than sugar,” she said.

Citrus harvest begins in late October and generally lasts until June. About 85% of the state’s citrus remains unpicked.

A devastating freeze in December 1998 inflicted more than $600 million worth of damage on the California citrus industry, leaving thousands of farmworkers unemployed.

Farmers are hoping the upcoming cold snap, which originated in Canada, won’t be anywhere near as bad.

“There’s not a lot of anxiety right now, but we’ll know more by Thursday,” Houtby said.


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