U.S citrus groves have apparently come through a patch of cold weather in December and early January without significant damage to fruit on the trees.
While subfreezing temps are always a concern, Joel Nelsen, president of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, said cold weather can also improve fruit coloring and harden the exterior of the fruit.
“When it gets below 32 degrees, that’s when the mandarin guys get nervous and they have run their wind machines quite a bit in December, but there is no damage there,” he said.
Orange growers are worried when temperatures plunge below 28 degrees, and Nelsen said they only had to run their wind machines for eight to ten hours in December.
Dale Murden, president of Texas Citrus Mutual, said Jan. 4 that he had heard the coldest temperature in south Texas citrus groves the night of Jan. 3 was 27 degrees in a low spot. Generally, temperatures were a few degrees above what had been forecast, he said.
“What I’m hearing so far is that citrus came through just fine.”
Typically, Murden said fruit damage typically occurs when fruit is exposed to temperatures below 28 degrees for five or six hours. That wasn’t the case the night of Jan. 3.
Murden said that by the end of December about 75% of the Texas grapefruit crop remained to be picked, and about 40% of the early oranges remained to be picked. Harvest is expected to continue through April or May, he said.
Florida citrus growers came through the night of Jan. 3 in good shape, according to Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual. Temperatures dropped to the upper 20s in the northern growing region but the group has not heard reports of significant damage, Meadows said in a Jan. 4 e-mail.
Cold weather in northern states can slow consumer activity and grocery shopping, citrus leaders said.
“That’s something we face every year because customers can’t get to that supermarket and trucks can’t get to that distribution center, but that will pass,” Nelsen said. He said citrus export demand is beginning to heat up, with strong China demand and increasing demand from South Korea.