» January 16, 2007 «
California family farmers assess damage from severe freeze
With billions of dollars' worth of crops in the balance, California family farmers now must assess 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 will likely be 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. All say that the next few days will tell the tale.
Not only did the bone-chilling temperatures damage citrus fruit in the San Joaquin Valley, but it also hit in major winter growing areas of the Imperial and Coachella valleys and in Ventura and San Diego counties. Along with oranges and lemons, the cold struck avocados, strawberries, winter vegetables, alfalfa plantings, nursery and flower production facilities and winter-season crops such as desert artichokes.
"We are in the process of checking crop losses due to the freeze with our members and with representatives of commodity groups as well as agricultural commissioners statewide," California Farm Bureau Federation President Doug Mosebar said. "Preliminary reports indicate extensive damage. The losses will be significant and will affect farmers and consumers for months to come."
Although much of the damage is already apparent, farmers say it may take several days to know the true extent. Many say they expect to be in a better position to determine the damage toward the end of the week.
The state Department of Food and Agriculture said today it expects damage totals to reach the hundreds of millions of dollars, but that more specific estimates won't be available for several days.
While farmers tally their losses, quality control is in high gear to ensure that all produce available to consumers continues to be of the highest quality possible.
Here is a summary of the impact of the freeze:
Successive nights of temperatures in the mid-20s or colder has taken a severe toll on navel oranges, lemons and other citrus fruit. The farmers' organization California Citrus Mutual estimates fruit worth $1 billion was at risk from the freeze. Much of that fruit now appears to be ruined, but 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 be available in the market. Farmers harvested fruit in advance of the freeze and that fruit will keep markets stocked for the next seven to 10 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 trees in Southern California, as a result of freeze damage to the fruit stems. Freezing temperatures weaken the stems and cause fruit to drop from the trees prematurely. That process often takes a week to 10 days to show itself, so farmers have been cautious about estimating how much of the crop has been hurt. The freeze could also harm buds for next season's avocado crop.
Severe cold in the coastal growing regions of Southern California ruined most of the strawberries being readied for harvest. The freeze also destroyed flowers that would produce the next crop on each plant. The California Strawberry Commission says that will disrupt strawberry supplies for at least a couple of weeks. If the strawberry plants themselves escaped freeze damage, the plants will begin generating new strawberries after that. Farmers continue to assess whether strawberry plants themselves suffered damage.
Freezing weather has slowed the winter vegetable harvest in the Imperial and Coachella valleys and caused crop damage. Farmers report damage to lettuce and other leafy greens and say artichokes have suffered extensive losses.
Nursery plants and field-grown flowersincluding flowers being readied for Valentine's Daysuffered losses. Greenhouse-grown plants and flowers will not be affected.
The freeze appears to have destroyed small blocks of tropical fruits such as guavas and cherimoyas, being grown in San Diego County.
Young vegetable plants growing in desert harvest regions appear to have suffered extensive losses. That could affect 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 being planted for spring harvest.
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