Four days of unusually cold temperatures have damaged or destroyed an estimated three-quarters of California’s citrus crop, as farmers battle nightly frosts that are deadly to these winter fruits. Other crops, such as avocado and strawberries, have also sustained damage, causing Governor Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.
The cold weather began on Friday, with nightly temperatures in the high teens and low 20s. Growers attempted to pick as much as they could before the cold snap hit, but due to an industry labor shortage, much of the $960 million crop remained on the trees. Tactics such as burning smudge fires throughout the night and watering the crop to create a layer of insulating ice only go so far. Much of the crop has been lost, and the cold weather is expected to continue for another few days.
According to an Associated Press article, “The latest freeze will likely surpass the damage done by a three-day cold snap in December 1998 that destroyed 85 percent of California’s citrus crop, a loss valued at $700 million.” A. G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said, “This is one of those freezes that, unfortunately, we’ll all remember.” After a similar freeze in 1990, it was two years before the citrus industry recovered.
Ironically, this week is National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week (January 15–19). Better get that OJ in while we can.