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Much of Navel Orange Crop Destroyed by Record Low Temperatures With AM-Cold Rdp, Bjt

December 24, 1990

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Night after night of freezing temperatures has devastated California’s navel orange crop, the source of most of the nation’s fresh oranges each winter.

″This is way worse than I’ve ever seen,″ Bakersfield-area grower John Slikker Jr. said Monday.

″Yesterday, we cut these oranges in half ... It was just like cutting through a Popsicle.″

Dave Carman of the National Weather Service called the weather ″freeze-of- the-century stuff. This is probably the second-coldest freeze of the century. We are dealing with extreme record cold.″

Temperatures throughout the San Joaquin Valley citrus region dipped below 20 degrees from Friday night through Sunday night.

The forecast was for a slight warming Monday night and Tuesday morning - into the low and mid-20s. ″It’ll warm up just a tad, but you’re not going to feel it,″ said Marty Veloz of the weather service.

Navel oranges begin to show damage if the temperature falls to 25 or 26 degrees and stays at that level or below for at least four hours, said Cliff Holland of California Citrus Mutual, a grower organization.

Holland was gloomy when asked if the freeze had destroyed the crop.

″It sure looks like it, but I wouldn’t want to say that,″ he said. ″It will take some time to assess damage, but it looks bleak at this point.″

About 80 percent of the current crop remained on the trees, Holland said. The 1990-91 crop size had been estimated at 63 million cartons.

″Basically, I have written off the crop that is on the tree,″ said Chris Caviglia, a Tulare County grower. ″What I’m concerned about now is the crop for next year. I could very well lose it as well if the trees aren’t protected.″

Most of California’s navel oranges are sold on the fresh market, unlike Florida oranges, which are used mostly for juice and can sometimes be salvaged for processing after a freeze.

Because of that difference, Galen Moses, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said Monday it was too early to tell if Florida could profit from the freeze in California.

The navels were more vulnerable than normal this season because they were about two weeks late in maturing, leaving the rinds too thin to ward off much cold. California navels are harvested between November and June.

The 1989 navel orange crop was valued at $248 million, compared to $1.29 billion for the Florida orange production that year.

Growers and their employees stayed up four nights straight running wind machines and flooding orchards, which warms the trees a little because the water is above freezing.

″I’ve had very little sleep,″ Caviglia said. ″It’s been real depressing.″

Holland said California growers have been fortunate to avoid devastating freezes in the past. Some have saved for a bad year, but others will be hurt.

″I talk to growers who try to keep a minimum of one year’s farming costs in the bank, but we also have people in the industry with tremendous debt on groves,″ Holland said. ″There are going to be some hard times.″

Southern California lemons appeared to be less damaged, he added. No assessment of the loss to the state’s winter vegetables was available.

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