A stream of arctic air that brought sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice to regions across much of the country this month also brought threateningly low temperatures to California’s citrus groves. The USDA reports temperatures well below freezing throughout major and minor citrus growing regions from Madera to Bakersfield, along the coast, and only slightly warmer temperatures around Imperial to the south. The cold snap had growers working overtime during the long, cold nights; using everything from sprinklers to fans to mitigate the cold’s damaging effects on their crops.
After a full week in the danger zone temperatures began their upward climb last week, but the relief may be too little too late. CNBC reports 85% of the state’s navel orange crop remains on the trees, awaiting harvest. While 75-80% of mandarin oranges, which includes tangerines and clementines, remained and were at even greater risk. The smaller, thinner skinned fruits can rarely withstand temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit without sustaining damage.
Loss estimates are preliminary at this point, but aren’t expected to take as steep a toll on the $2 billion dollar industry as previous freezes in 1990 and 1998. Still, California produces 85% of the nation’s fresh citrus crop each year, and both growers and consumers will likely feel the effects of the arctic air in their pocket books – one with the loss of income generated by a smaller crop, and the other with higher citrus prices at the supermarket.
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