Time for more predictably weird weather news! Sunny California, while still sunny, has been freezing this week. Temperatures statewide plunged to as much as 20 degrees F below normal, the lowest lows the state has seen in years.
The freezing overnight temps are seriously bad news for California farmers’ crops, especially the state’s $2 billion citrus industry, which accounts for most of the commercially available oranges and lemons in the U.S.
Strawberry and avocado farmers, too, “are having a lot of sleepless nights,” protecting crops with in-field heaters, coverings, fans, and water.
The cold snap has been a particular concern for citrus farmers across the state, who have been up all night since Thursday. There are $1 billion in oranges, lemons, tangerines and grapefruit still on trees in California, the nation’s largest producer of fresh citrus.
The year had been off to a good start, with a particularly flavorful crop of mandarins and good sugar content across the state …
“We were looking at a very profitable year,” said John Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state’s 3,900 citrus growers, the majority of which are family farmers.
But a cold snap can change that in hours. In January 2007, citrus growers lost 60% of the state’s crop to freezes. In 1998 it was 85%. The worst season in memory was the Christmas freeze of December 1990, when a week of temperatures in the teens defoliated the orchards, leading to a total loss for that season and the one after, Nelsen said.
Nothing like some weird weather to remind us how tenuous our centralized food system truly is! The delicious irony here is that a modest touch of cold weather actually regulates citrus sugars well, making better and more stable fruit. So enjoy the California clementines while you can — they may be freezing today, but soon they’ll be rotting on the vine.