California family farmers continue to assess damage from severe freeze
» January 18, 2007 «
With billions of dollars' worth of crops in the balance, California family farmers and ranchers continue to provide preliminary reports about damage from the spate of frozen nights that blanketed the state.
Because the freeze hit growing areas statewide, any crop that was on the tree or above the ground was likely hurt to some degree. A number of farmers expect to take a total loss on their crops. Others say their crops may have escaped severe damage.
Here is a summary of the impact of the freeze to date:
Successive nights of temperatures in the mid-20s or colder took a severe toll on navel oranges, lemons and other citrus fruit. The farmers' organization California Citrus Mutual estimates fruit worth at least $500 million has been damaged and they expect that number to increase. Experts caution that freeze damage sometimes will not manifest itself for several days.
Though there are widespread losses, farmers also report that their frost-protection measures did succeed to some degree and California-grown citrus fruit will still be available in the market. Some farmers harvested fruit in advance of the freeze and that fruit will keep markets stocked for the next several days. Fruit picked after the freeze will undergo additional inspections, to insure that only top-quality California fruit reaches market.
Avocados have begun to drop from the trees in Southern California as a result of freeze damage to the fruit stems. The California Avocado Commission estimates as much as 20 percent of the state's crop may be lost, but says it will take several weeks for a complete damage assessment. The commission says farmers will be able to meet commitments to retailers for avocados to sell before Super Bowl weekend, a traditional peak in avocado consumption. But it says consumer prices will likely rise.
Volumes of California strawberries will be affected for up to six weeks as a result of the severe cold in the coastal growing regions of Southern California. Strawberries being readied for harvest were damaged. The California Strawberry Commission describes the losses as a "temporary setback." It says strawberry plants will begin to generate new berries in a matter of weeks and that the freeze impact now might even stimulate stronger production later in the season.
Freezing weather has slowed the winter vegetable harvest in the Imperial and Coachella valleys and has caused crop damage. Farmers report damage to lettuce and other leafy greens and say artichokes have suffered extensive losses.
Young vegetable plants growing in desert harvest regions appear to have suffered extensive losses. That could affect the availability this spring of crops such as sweet corn, bell peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers are checking potential losses to lettuce also being planted for spring harvest.
The freeze damaged artichokes in the Castroville area. There may be a few available from other regions, but they too suffered damage. The California Artichoke Commission says that when the perennial plants undergo a freeze, they often produce more artichokes later. Artichokes may return to the market in volume in March.
The freezing temperatures may have frozen the new wood on olive trees. A similar freeze in 1990 caused a 50 percent crop reduction that year. Farmers aren't certain yet how much damage there may be, but it was cold in all growing areas: the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys as well as areas where boutique olive oil is produced.
Nursery plants and field-grown flowers--including flowers being readied for Valentine's Day--also suffered losses. In Southern California the freeze destroyed flowers that would produce the next crop on each plant. Greenhouse-grown plants and flowers are not affected, though growers have faced much higher heating costs.
Other crops, dairy cows and bees
The freeze appears to have destroyed small blocks of tropical fruits such as guavas and cherimoyas being grown in San Diego County.
The freeze damaged alfalfa growing in the Imperial Valley and hurt new plantings in the San Joaquin Valley.
Dairy farmers have worked to keep their cows comfortable through the cold weather. Farm advisors have encouraged farmers to feed their cows additional nutrients to maintain milk production.
Beekeepers have provided sugar water to their bees, to make sure they have enough nourishment to sustain them through the cold weather.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest farm organization, works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 92,000 members.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.Top