Freezing temperatures in California's San Joaquin Valley have destroyed an estimated three-fourths of the region's citrus crop. Citrus farmer Tom Wollenman talks with Renee Montagne about the problem.
Where are you speaking to us from?
I just left my office, where I have been on my computer, accessing my remote weather stations and getting a grip on how cold the weather is. I came out here and I'm driving down one of the wind machine drives in one of my orchards, to make sure the equipment is functioning correctly.
I gather there is a big fan going, trying to warm up the crops?
With these wind machines, there is a fan located at 35 feet in elevation, where right now we have a temperature inversion that's seven degrees higher, so we're mixing that air that's seven degrees higher back into the orange groves to try and maintain higher temperatures in the orange grove.
Now, it has gotten down into the teens here in Southern California. You're in the Central Valley. How cold has it gotten?
We're five nights into this freeze and we've had temperatures in some of the lower areas down into the teens, although we still have some viable fruit on the trees. We're gonna save some of it.
When you say you have some viable fruit, how do you know the fruit is good?
Right now what I do every morning and every evening, I go out with my fruit knife and I go to selected orange groves and I slice the fruit open and see if I can find ice or slush in the fruit. I've done this a long time so I can tell whether this fruit is actually gonna make it through. But we do have some fruit left.
You've taken a hit here. How are the farmers going to cope with this catastrophic loss?
Most of the people in this business are generational people. You're in it for the long haul. We have these major freezes about every ten years, so we do have frost insurance that comes into play. As a rule of thumb, if you're a citrus farmer or any other kind of farmer, you always try to have one year's worth of farming costs in the bank at all times. Farming is a gamble here, so you kind of live with it and you get yourself prepared.