California Orange Groves May See Mandarin Damage From Cold Snap

Orange growers in California, the largest U.S. producer after Florida, may see some fruit damage from a five-day cold spell that is forecast to end tomorrow, according to a farmer group.

Temperatures dropped as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit below average in growing areas including the San Joaquin Valley, where it reached the mid-20s, said Joel Widenor, the director of agriculture services at Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland. Less than a quarter of the state’s citrus belt had weather cold enough to threaten crops, he said. The fruit can freeze and become useless if temperatures drop below 28 degrees (minus 2 Celsius) for three to four hours.

“There’s going to be some damage,” Shirley Batchman, the director of government affairs at California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state’s citrus growers, said today by telephone from Exeter. “Just by virtue of how cold it got and the duration, there will be some damage to the mandarins,” which are smaller than navel oranges and more easily hurt by a freeze, she said. Mandarins account for about 24 percent of state output, she said.

The cold snap had little impact on orange-juice futures in New York because California produces table fruit. Much of the U.S. supply used by beverage companies including Coca Cola Co.’s Minute Maid and PepsiCo Inc.’s Tropicana comes from Florida. Orange juice for March delivery slid 1.2 percent to settle at $1.115 a pound today on ICE Futures U.S., the biggest drop in a week. Prices are down 40 percent in the past year.

‘Not Severe’

“The temperatures were not severe enough to cause widespread damage,” Craig Kallsen, a citrus adviser at University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said by telephone from Bakersfield. “This is nothing out of the ordinary, so we’re able to handle this.”

About 63 percent of the California crop is navel oranges, with the rest made up of mandarin and valencia varieties, Citrus Mutual’s Batchman said. Harvests start in October and last through June for navels and March for mandarins. On Jan. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture left its forecast for California’s 2012-2013 crop unchanged at 59.5 million boxes, each weighing 80 pounds (36 kilograms). That’s up from 59 million a year earlier.

Farmers can keep orchard temperatures a few degrees warmer by running warm water through the soil and using wind machines that mix high warm air with lower cold air, according to Batchman.

“We are not anticipating any damage in the navels, maybe very limited damage on the outer row away from the wind protection,” she said. “Certainly nothing that’s going to affect the orange production.”

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