As much as 70 percent of California's $1 billion orange crop has been destroyed by record cold temperatures across the state over the past...
As much as 70 percent of California’s $1 billion orange crop has been destroyed by record cold temperatures across the state over the past few days, officials and farmers said Monday.
It will take days to make a full assessment of the losses. But the state’s top agriculture official said Monday that damage appears to be greater and more widespread than in the freeze of 1998, which destroyed $700 million worth of produce across California. The state produces about 30 percent of the oranges in the U.S., second only to Florida.
“This cold incident will surpass the 1998-99 freeze,” said A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Losses, while greatest in the San Joaquin Valley, seem to be spread throughout many parts of the state typically immune to freezes, he said, “from San Diego to the Central Valley to the coast.”
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In addition to citrus fruits, growers are reporting damage to leafy greens, avocados, strawberries and blueberries, Kawamura said.
Some farmers are reporting 100 percent damage to their crops, and many others say well over half their produce is destroyed, he added.
Consumers could feel the impact in prices at the grocery store, said Toni Spigelmyer, spokeswoman for Sysco, the largest U.S. food-service distributor.
“We’ve lost about 50 percent of the orange crops, had significant losses on lemons, and it’s going to have an effect on vegetables,” Spigelmyer said. “Basically, what we’re going to see is a tighter supply and much higher prices.”
But the damage will have little effect on the price of orange juice because most of the oranges used for juice come from elsewhere.
The cold snap is particularly insidious because it has lasted twice as long as normal winter blasts and plunged temperatures below 25 degrees, essentially making night warming efforts by farmers futile.
“The trees are looking sad,” Nelsen said. “They’re normally a vibrant green color with these bright orange dots all over them. Now the leaves are curling, and they’re turning yellow. They’re really stressed.”
Avocado farmers say this weekend was the most damaging in 16 years.
Guy Witney, of the California Avocado Commission, said the frost could not have come at a worse time for avocado farmers. Only 5 percent of the $350 million crop was picked before the weekend, he said, meaning that most of the fruit was still on the trees and vulnerable to the cold.
Santa Paula Canyon avocado farmer Richard Pidduck said the stems on his avocados are turning brown, a sure sign of failure. When cut open, dark veins running through the fruit indicated the first signs of decay.
“My avocado crop was a total loss,” Pidduck said. “That is several hundred thousand dollars lost from what is just a small family farm.”
Damage to Ventura County’s $1.2 billion agricultural industry was extensive, said Earl McPhail, the county’s agricultural commissioner.
Besides wiping out citrus and avocado groves, the temperatures damaged the winter strawberry crop just as it was going to harvest.
Throughout the state, citrus growers were voluntarily holding back fruit that was exposed to the cold so that it can be inspected for damage, officials said.
Oranges and lemons might look undamaged from the outside, but freezing alters the fruit inside so it is no longer juicy, said Nancy Lungren, a state Agricultural Department spokeswoman.
Material from Bloomberg News is included in this report.