Damage Assessment is Arduous, Industry Calls for 48 More Hours
Continuing California Ag Today’s coverage
of the chill that is damaging citrus in the state, Tuesday night temperatures were up
considerably following the earliest severe freeze event in over 25 years for
Valley citrus growers, according to California Citrus Mutual TODAY. Some isolated cold spots
persist, but overall, the worst is behind us for the time being.
Generally, grove temperatures held at about 30 degrees with wind
protection throughout most of the San Joaquin Valley last night, providing a
much-needed reprieve for weary trees, equipment, and growers. However, after
seven consecutive nights of low overnight temperatures, damage is expected, industry
and County and State inspectors are now assessing the extent of which.
"Although temperatures are now on the upswing, the compound
effect of a seven day freeze event has made the fruit more susceptible to
damage at higher temperature points," says CCM President Joel Nelsen. "There is no doubt
that damage has occurred across the citrus belt. For some, the damage is major,
for others the damage is manageable. It just depends upon location and the
A series of meetings by industry representatives, growers, and
regulatory personnel took place yesterday to determine the scope of the damage
and how to avoid shipping damaged fruit into the market place.
"In the past decade the industry has made significant
advances in technology at the packinghouse," says Kevin Severns, Citrus Mutual Board Chairman and General Manager of Orange
Cove-Sanger Citrus Association. "We can now see, literally, what damage
exists internally in each piece of fruit. This technology has cost most packinghouses
hundreds of thousands of dollars, which will reap dividends this year."
Nevertheless, damage assessment can be arduous. Starting in the
field, extreme and identifiable damaged fruit will be eliminated from the fresh
market and directly shipped to the juice plant. For California citrus, juice
plants are, by design, a salvage operation for lower quality fruit.
"Sending fruit to the juice plant is certainly not ideal for growers from
a revenue perspective," says Nelsen. "Generally speaking, the return
for juiced fruit is only sufficient to cover harvesting costs."
A massive amount of field inspections are underway to determine
the extent of damage and how much fruit will be redirected to the juice plant. The
process begins by identifying the areas of highest concern - specifically in
known cold, unprotected areas. County inspection teams will then work their way
through the interior of the grove where frost protection is greater, until zero
damage is identified. This must be done on over 200,000 acres between Kern,
Tulare, and Fresno counties to eliminate the bulk of the damage before
harvesting for the fresh market.
The industry collectively agreed Tuesday, as a precautionary
effort, to wait 48 hours to pack fruit harvested on or after December 11, 2013
to allow state and county inspectors ample time to conduct further inspections
for damage at each of the 81 packinghouses in the Central Valley. "The
citrus industry created this partnership with the Commissioners several years
ago," says Severns. "A two-day wait period for packing will be costly
to the industry, but it is a small price to pay to guarantee a quality product
reaches the market. Sustaining our reputation as the top producer in the
Country of fresh citrus is something the California citrus industry will not
The voluntary wait period will not create any delays in
availability to the market place. Packinghouses estimate that enough fruit was
harvested prior to the freeze to sustain market supply through the holidays.
Frost protection costs for 7 days totaled an estimated $32.4
million to protect the Valley's $1.5 billion citrus industry.
California produces 85% of the nation's fresh citrus supply
year-round. The industry creates approximately 12,000 jobs directly, and
another 10,000 in support industries, generating $1.5 million in economic
Labels: Damage Assessment is Arduous Industry Calls for 48 More Hours for Inspection, Valley Citrus Assessing Freeze Damage