Most Of California Citrus Crops Lost To Freeze - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/16/07 - California

Most Of California Citrus Crops Lost To Freeze

Three nights of freezing temperatures have destroyed up to three-quarters of California's $1 billion citrus crop, according to an estimate issued Monday as forecasters warned the weather could continue.

Other crops, including avocados and strawberries, also have suffered damage in the cold snap, agricultural officials said.

"This is one of those freezes that, unfortunately, we'll all remember," said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The latest freeze will likely surpass the damage done by a three-day cold snap in December 1998 that destroyed 85 percent of California's citrus crop, a loss valued at $700 million, Kawamura said.

Overnight temperatures dropped into the teens again early Monday in parts of the San Joaquin Valley, where many of the state's oranges and lemons are grown, according to the National Weather Service. The subfreezing conditions came after a weekend of record lows.

Growers should expect the mercury to dip into the mid-20s until at least Wednesday night, National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Harty said.

"Even though it's slightly warmer, it's still dangerous for the citrus crops," Harty said.

Citrus growers alreadyhave lost between 50 and 75 percent of their crops, said Philip LoBue, a farmer and chairman of California Citrus Mutual, a 2,000-member trade organization.

"When you're already cutting ice within the oranges, you know those are gone," LoBue said.

Growers hastened to pick as much fruit as possible before the chilly weather hit Friday, but an industry labor shortage meant much of the $960 million crop went unharvested, LoBue said.

The full impact of the freeze would not be known until inspectors check fruit for damage, agricultural officials said. In the meantime, fruit packers were asked to keep produce harvested during the freeze on hold forfive days to monitor for quality problems and keep damaged fruit off store shelves.

After a weeklong freeze in 1990, the industry took two years to recover, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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