Citrus producers received a welcomed reprieve last night from freeze conditions after 3 consecutive nights of cold weather. A dense cloud cover elevated temperatures, steadying in most areas around the mid-30s. Although rain is much needed, Saturday night's forecast calls for extremely cold temperatures, which may pose challenges for dampened fruit.
The extent of damage is difficult to determine immediately following a freeze event as initial damage will occur inside the fruit. Growers are now also concerned that rainy conditions coupled with low overnight temperatures on Saturday will leave the fruit susceptible to exterior damage and ice mark.
County inspectors and packing house personnel will begin inspecting the fruit for damage as early as next week. This is done by cutting the fruit and visually inspecting each segment for discoloration and dryness. This breakdown occurs over the course of several days as temperatures rise and requires a trained eye to determine. If rain conditions persist, this process could take longer which will make it difficult to assess the overall damage to the crop.
Several years ago the industry formed an advisory committee to assist local government in determining the scope of freeze damage. Once inspections are complete, fruit that does not pass regulatory standards are restricted from entering the market.
"The entire program is designed to maintain the integrity of the market for California citrus," says Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. "The industry collectively funds the cost of enhanced inspections at packing houses to ensure any damaged fruit does not make its way into the market place." Although this does have a negative impact to grower returns, the industry collectively agrees that ensuring quality is the priority.