Cold Weather Damages California Crops
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
Here on the West Coast, citrus farmers are looking at the damage after a fourth night of icy temperatures. Some estimates say the freeze has already destroyed up to three-quarters of the state's $1 billion citrus crop that's here in California. We won't know just how bad it is until the weather warms and inspectors can take a really close look at the crops.
NPR's Luke Burbank has an update.
LUKE BURBANK: Philip Labu(ph) has been growing oranges in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California for 40 years, He's seen freezes and droughts and all kinds of calamity that can threaten his crops. Still, he says, you never get used to a week like this.
Mr. PHILIP LABU (Orange Crop Farmer, San Joaquin Valley, California): It's kind of a devastation I feel after working so hard, and then you just kind of, you know, lose it all in a couple of nights. It's yeah - it's kind of a devastating effect.
BURBANK: For the past few days, Labu and thousands of other California farmers have been locked in a round the clock battle with old man winter. Labu has been using a system of huge fans and warm water and hard work to try to keep at least some of the navel oranges on his thousand acred orchard viable.
Mr. LABU: There's a lot of icicles hanging lower in the branches. The top part of the trees' air mass that's been so dry. It's so dry, all my lips and face are all chapped right now because the air has been so dry. It's been like you're going skiing, it's just so dry.
BURBANK: Wow. Like, that's insult to injury. You got chapped lips and you lost your crops.
Mr. LABU: Yeah, right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BURBANK: If Labu seems to be taking it somewhat in stride, it's because he -like a lot of farmers - does have frost insurance. But that only covers his production costs, meaning he won't be in the hole, but he also won't have any income this year. Farmers in his predicament have been reaching out to A.G. Kawamura. He's secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Mr. A.G. KAWAMURA (Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture): These fruiting crops are pretty sensitive, and when they freeze solid or they begin to freeze internally, it basically damages the tissue inside and then they start the slow process of decaying, actually.
BURBANK: Kawamura is also a farmer himself. Since last Saturday, he's been trekking up and down the state, assessing the damage. And when he hasn't been in the fields, he's been on the phones.
Mr. KAWAMURA: I was just speaking with some grower groups here in the San Joaquin Valley, just a few minutes ago. And the temperatures were not necessarily as cold as they were the day before, the day before that today, but they still are freezing temperatures. And so for whatever fruit that's left out there in some of this groves - it continues to be a challenge.
BURBANK: It'll be a few days before citrus farmers know just how bad they were hit. And even longer for avocado farmers - that's because of how those fruit respond to cold temperatures. And there's a lot of luck involved. Are their crops on a hill or in the valley? Which way does the wind blow? A.G. Kawamura says those vagaries are just part of farming.
Mr. KAWAMURA: We have perishable crops, and they're vulnerable to disease. They're vulnerable to weather. They're vulnerable to a lack of labor to pick them when they're at their right time. It's probably one of the facts of life when you're a farmer, you just - it's not an easy business. In fact, it's pretty tough sometimes.
BURBANK: No matter what ends up happening, the freeze is already been bad news for consumers. Some wholesale buyers say they're already seeing a jump in the price of California Citrus.
Luke Burbank, NPR News.
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