The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

January 16, 2013

Cold still threatens crops in West, but it’s easing

FRESNO, Calif. — The freeze gripping the West appeared on the verge of easing Tuesday, but farmers who spent millions to protect crops were still assessing damage, some produce prices climbed, and businesses and residents dealt with burst pipes.

The National Weather Service predicted another frosty night, but said temperatures would begin to warm as high pressure moved east.

For a fifth night, temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural heart, dipped below freezing, though they were a few degrees warmer than previous nights, said Paul Story of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of citrus growers.

Growers, who have about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on the trees, used wind machines to keep warmer air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise temperatures.

Citrus growers statewide spent more than $23 million over five nights to save their crops, the association estimated.

But in some areas, that wasn’t enough.

“We definitely had some damage, but it’s hard to tell how much,” Story said, adding that the fruit’s maturity and high sugar content helped protect much of the crop.

Crop damage estimates weren’t yet available, growers said, because for some varieties damage isn’t visible for days or weeks. Initial reports indicated up to 6 percent of the state’s orange crop was damaged and up to 9 percent of the mandarin crop, Story said.

Despite damage, Story said, plenty of good citrus is left on trees.

“The fact is, we have a lot of good quality fruit to sell,” Story said.

Wind machines and irrigation would run in groves for least two more nights, he said, though sleepless farmers were looking forward to warmer weather.

“They’ve been working the night shift and the day shift,” he said.

California’s strawberry growers also were using wind machines, sprinklers and helicopters, said Carolyn O’Donnell with the state Strawberry Commission. In Oxnard and Santa Maria, growers who lacked frost protection saw damage to flowers and fruit in their early berry varieties.

In urban centers, it was 39 degrees in downtown Los Angeles early Tuesday, while San Francisco had 37 and San Diego, 36. In Oakland, black ice caused several crashes.

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