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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Southern California Avocado and Citrus Freeze – How bad is it?

The reports on the evening news have been staggering when it comes to the destruction of avocado and citrus crops this year. Numbers like 80% of the total crop and billions of dollars of losses have been tossed around. The governor has even declared a state of emergency here in southern California and specifically hard hit is the county I live in, Ventura County. The cold front that swept through here a week or so ago really did a number on the agricultural economy and hurt a lot of farmers and ranchers as the temperatures dropped below freezing for a few days in a row.

However, for those of us that live in Ventura County, we thought that the early numbers might be exaggerated. For a good number of us, it was cold – but it barely touched 32 or 33 degrees on the thermometer, hardly enough to do a lot of damage. However, after driving through the county yesterday – the numbers are likely not exaggerated.

We were on our way to visit my grandfather, who has lived in Fillmore, California since the early 1930's. During our drive, we pass through the orchards of Camarillo, Saticoy, Santa Paula, and finally Fillmore. What we saw, took our breath of way in terms of the damage. The pictures below will show the damage. I apologize for the less than ideal quality -- they were taken with a camera phone while it was raining!

As you can see, this young avocado tree is completely burned from the freeze. No hope of this tree producing any fruit this year, if it survives!

These orange trees are not in any better shape. The leaves are burned, wilting and the fruit is most likely frozen and useless.

Entire orchards look like this, especially the avocado droves where thousands of trees have burned leaves, black branches and lots of early developing fruit is still on the ground.

As we covered some 40 miles of orchards during our trip, we did not see many that were spared. Universally, avocados, citrus, lemons, limes, and oranges all looked to have significant damage from our latest freeze. There is no doubt that this will have some impact on both the Ventura County economy and the prices we pay at the grocery store for these items!

On an interesting note, I heard people speculate that although the wind machines were turned on to "chop" up the air, bring warmer air to the trees -- they actually may have made it worse. Since this was a true cold front with no warmer air above the cold, the only thing the machines did was pass more cold air across the branches, fruit, and leaves. That simply burned them more quickly.

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