UPDATED: Packing on hold to assess California citrus damage

12/11/2013 06:03:00 PM
Mike Hornick

The market won’t be out of fruit picked before the freeze until sometime the week of Dec. 16, Blakely said. “By then inspectors will have been evaluating the fruit that went through the freeze for several days, and they’ll have a good idea of the quality,” he said.

Temperatures reached the low 20s in parts of the valley during the Dec. 4-10 cold spell. For Dec. 11-12 the National Weather Service forecast lows of 31 and 32 degrees respectively in Reedley with a slight warming trend to follow.

State and county inspectors are checking groves as well as packinghouses. Field inspections are planned for more than 200,000 acres in Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties. The aim is to eliminate most damaged fruit before harvesting.

“Nobody knows what the final numbers are going to be,” LaForest said. “For the government to be so concerned that the consumer may get inferior product, it means there’s fruit out there they don’t like and they want to make sure it doesn’t go to market.”

“Although temperatures are now on the upswing, the compound effect of a seven-day freeze event has made the fruit more susceptible to damage at higher temperature points,” Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said in a news release.

Damaged mandarins and navels will be shipped to juice plants, Nelsen said, which is likely to cover harvesting costs only.

Many packinghouses have installed scanners in recent years that quickly identify and remove damaged fruit from lines, said Kevin Severns, chairman of California Citrus Mutual and general manager of the Orange Cove-Sanger Citrus Association.

Frost protection costs through the first seven days of the cold temperatures totaled about $32.4 million. Irrigation and wind machines can add a few degrees to grove temperatures.

California produces 85% of U.S. fresh citrus year-round. San Joaquin Valley citrus crops are valued at about $1.5 billion.

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