BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Valley citrus growers were up against below freezing conditions for the 6th consecutive night last night. Although higher overnight temperatures materialized this weekend, last night's extremely low temperatures will likely result in some damage to the Valley's $1.5 billion citrus crop.
Cold daytime temperatures on Sunday set the stage for a rough night, with wind machines starting as early as 8 p.m. Unlike previous nights, an inversion layer failed to materialize leaving wind protection unsuccessful at keeping temperatures above critical levels. Coupled with longer duration at low temperatures, damage is anticipated for the already weakened fruit.
The navel oranges crop is expected to make it out of this freeze episode with some damage, the extent of which will be determined in the coming weeks. The less cold tolerant Mandarin crop will have a greater degree of damage, again the extent of which cannot be verified at this time.
While damage is expected, it is certainly not at levels close to damage in the last significant freeze events in 1998 and 1990. Improved frost protection technology and advanced weather forecasting has allowed growers to better prepare for freeze events than in prior freeze years. The industry is confident that there is a sufficient level of harvested fruit and undamaged fruit to supply the market.
Equipment fatigue and fuel supply are the concern now. In 6 nights, wind machines have run for an average of 56 hours and field reports indicate that mechanical issues may inhibit frost protection efforts for the duration of this freeze event. Additionally, as cold temperatures persist, growers are worried that delivery of fuel supplies to power wind machines may become limited.
Nevertheless, the industry is still optimistic. "The cold weather we are experiencing now is by no means comparable to the severe temperatures and damage incurred in 1990, or even 1998," says California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen. "The frost protection technology we have today has allowed producers to better prepare for freeze conditions and protect the crop from serious damage."
California Citrus Mutual estimates that the overall cost to the industry for 6 nights of frost protection is $23 million.