Report: Freeze cost California citrus about $441M

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A week of freezing temperatures in early December cost California's $2 billion citrus industry about $441 million, an industry group estimated on Monday.

The group, California Citrus Mutual, said the damage was confined to the state's Central Valley, where mandarin, navel and lemon crops were lost during seven consecutive nights of freezing temperatures in early December.

About 20 percent of the mandarin crop had already been harvested, but about 40 percent of the remaining oranges, or $150 million in revenue, were lost. The navel crop suffered a 30 percent loss and the dollar value of the damage hit $260 million, the group said. About $24 million in lemons also were lost.

The group estimated that citrus growers have spent $49 million to protect the crop through early January.

"It's a significant loss and most of that's going to go to the grower's bottom line," said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual.

John S. Gless, vice president of Gless Ranch Inc., said about 20 percent of his citrus crop in Kern County was affected by the freeze. He said his company spent additional money on water and wind machines to make sure the fruit survived.

He said the diesel-powered wind machines alone could cost $50 an hour to run and there were nights when they were running full-speed for 10 hours a night.

With a few hundred machines, "it really adds up," Gless told KPCC.

Gless Ranch has about 4,500 acres in Kern County and the crops impacted were naval oranges, Mandarin oranges and lemons. The ranch also has about 2,500 acres in Southern California, but its land here was not impacted by the freeze.

Gless said the cost that retailers are willing to pay growers for the fruit has increased. He's hoping that will help him at least break even. 

The vast majority of California's citrus crop is consumed as fruit, not juice, so the loss will not affect juice prices, Blakely said.

Consumers, however, are likely to see at least a slight increase in the price of oranges at the grocery store.

"As you move through the remainder of the season, the supplies are going to become shorter," he said.

With contributions from Associated Press

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