Forecasted lows did not materialize New Year’s Eve/Day but cold temperatures prevailed throughout citrus growing areas requiring frost protection as early as 10 PM New Year’s Eve. The counties of Riverside, Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera all experienced temperatures dropping to 26-28 degrees without protection for short durations. Utilization of wind machines and water raised grove temperatures on average by three to four degrees thereby assuring no significant fruit damage for any of the major varieties, navel oranges, lemons and mandarins.
“Growers initiated frost protection by 10 PM in most cases,” reports CCM President Joel Nelsen; as temperatures did drop early and forecasts were for mid-twenties in the coldest spots. “No doubt the early start helped keep temperatures higher throughout the night and with lows not reaching 26 dregrees, except in the coldest unprotected areas, we conclude it was a long night but a safe night.”
Mandarin producers and lemon growers, on average, ran their equipment at least ten hours with navel orange growers, depending on location, running their equipment for six hours. Some of the coldest pockets in areas of Kern County and spots in Tulare and Madera Counties had already been harvested thus potential damage was non-existent. “Thirty days makes a difference,” continues Nelsen. Last season a major freeze event occurred the first week of December thereby creating much more vulnerability for the industry. The past 30 days significant tonnage was harvested from those historic areas of low temperatures thereby eliminating potential loss.”
Also protecting fruit from frost damage is the higher maturity as 30 days creates a piece of fruit that can better protect itself. “There may be isolated areas of damage to mandarin groves as trees and fruit farthest from wind machines would be susceptible to damage in West Kern County where low temperatures were reported consistently. This should not affect volume or price significantly,” Nelsen concludes.
The vast majority of 22,000 wind machines in the state were running last night creating a dull roar in production areas. The vast majority of these machines are fueled by propane followed by diesel with a small percentage powered via electricity. Lower fuel costs this past summer offered producers an opportunity to reduce expense as they prepared for the 14/15 winter nevertheless it is estimated that almost $5 million in fuel cost was incurred.
Based on California agricultural statistics for the 13/14 season the California citrus industry represents $2.4B in value with another $1.75B generated in economic value. The crop estimate for the 14/15 navel orange season was 78 million cartons in the San Joaquin Valley and another 5 million cartons in Southern California. Approximately 25% of the orange crop has been harvested. Mandarin tonnage was estimated to be 50 million 5lb cartons this year and approximately 70% of the crop remains on the tree. The vast majority of lemon tonnage is in Ventura County and all of it remains on the tree. The San Joaquin Valley has an estimated 10 million carton lemon crop to be harvested with about 80% of that tonnage remaining on the tree. The entire crop is estimated at approximately 45 million cartons.
A preliminary forecast by the CCM weather team for citrus production areas indicates a slightly warmer night tonight. Assuming that forecast remains consistent the need for frost watch communications tomorrow is diminished.