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Six cold nights do little damage to Calif. citrus crop

Overnight low temperatures in California's citrus production areas were forecasted to moderate Jan. 5 and gradually rise for the remainder of the week. Six nights of critically cold weather kept growers busy protecting California's $2.4 billion citrus crop over the extended New Year's weekend.

Citrus growers had run water and wind machines in their groves six to 10 hours each night since Dec. 31 as temperatures bottomed out at 26 degrees in the coldest areas for short periods of time. Generally, the overnight low temperatures in unprotected areas fluctuated between 27 and 29 degrees for durations of one to eight hours throughout the Central San Joaquin Valley, where 65 percent of California's citrus acreage is located.

"Wind machines have been very effective in holding temperatures inside groves above critical levels, maintaining safe conditions and protecting both oranges and Mandarins from damage," Bob Blakely, CCM vice president, said in a press release.

The higher sugar content in the fruit this time of year results in a piece of fruit that can better protect itself. However, there could be some damage to exposed fruit on the outside borders beyond the range of the wind machines. There is no indication at the present time of significant damage to the remaining 75 percent of the Navel crop or the remaining 70 percent of the Mandarin crop. "I do not expect to see any impact from this cold event on fruit supply or price," said Blakely.

Mandarin producers and lemon growers, on average, ran their equipment at least 10 hours each night. Navel orange growers, depending on location, ran their equipment for six to eight hours. The citrus industry has spent over $16.5 million protecting the citrus crop over the past six nights.

Based on California agricultural statistics for the 2013-14 season, the California citrus industry represents $2.4 billion in value with another $1.75 billion generated in economic value. The crop estimate for the 2014-15 Navel orange season was 78 million cartons in the San Joaquin Valley and another 5 million cartons in Southern California. Approximately 25 percent of the orange crop has been harvested. Mandarin tonnage was estimated to be 50 million 5-pound cartons this year and approximately 70 percent of the crop remains on the tree. The vast majority of lemon tonnage is in Ventura County and all of it remains on the tree. The San Joaquin Valley has an estimated 10 million carton lemon crop to be harvested with about 80 percent of that tonnage remaining on the tree. The entire lemon crop is estimated at approximately 45 million cartons.

A preliminary forecast by the CCM weather team for citrus production areas indicated a slightly warmer night Jan. 5 with shorter durations below freezing, and temperatures were expected to gradually warm over the following days.