Two nights of frigid temperatures in mid January across portions of California’s Fresno and Madera counties nipped the 2011-2012 Navel and mandarin citrus crops by an estimated 10 percent to 25 percent.

The Jan. 16-18 freeze event hit northern Fresno County and Madera County the hardest with as much as a 40 percent to 100 percent crop loss in the coldest locations in those counties.

“We estimate 10 percent of the Navel crop and 15 to 20 percent of the mandarin crop have been affected by the freezing temperatures,” said Bob Blakely, director of grower services with California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, Calif.

These percentages are for the entire industry — the cumulative effect of 22 to 25 nights in December which required growers to implement frost protection measures and culminating with the Jan. 16-18 freezing temperatures.

Through mid-January, Blakely says California citrus growers had spent about $100 million protecting citrus crops from cold temperatures this winter. The money was spent on running additional water plus wind machines to protect the citrus from freezing temperatures.

Temperatures dropped into the 18 degree range in the coldest locations during the early morning hours in mid January.

“Fruit that was damaged by the freeze is fruit that will not make it into a box,” Blakely said.

Prior to the freeze, USDA estimated the Central Valley Navel crop at 85 million cartons. The freeze could reduce the amount to 74 million cartons. Blakely says the estimated reduction is based on the freeze impact and dry winter conditions which have limited fruit growth resulting in reduced overall fruit size.

USDA estimated the mandarin at 21 million cartons before the freeze. About 60 percent of the mandarin crop was still on trees when the arctic blast chilled the citrus orchards.

The primary affected areas were in northern Fresno County and Madera County.

“There were probably isolated groves in the coldest areas that will probably see a near total loss,” Blakely said. “Areas to the south were not as cold and may not have any damage.”

Temperatures through most of December were cold which helped prepare the trees for the January freeze.

Younger trees are more often nipped the most by an arctic blast.

“Most mature trees, except for some late fall flush, likely didn’t experience any tree damage,” Blakely said. “There may be some young, immature groves that in the coldest areas will be frozen back a little but they will be clipped (back) later and should come right back.”

At press time, prices for Navels and mandarins remained about the same but Blakely expects prices will head higher.

“As we move into the peak of the harvest season, Navel and mandarin prices could increase through the rest of the harvest due to the smaller crop,” Blakely said. 

cblake@farmpress.com