California Freeze Plays Havoc with Citrus 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.
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California Freeze Plays Havoc with Citrus

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California Freeze Plays Havoc with Citrus

California Freeze Plays Havoc with Citrus

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And officials here in California say an estimated three-fourths of the state's citrus crop has been destroyed. Freezing temperatures over the last four nights are to blame. Citrus is a billion-dollar industry in the state. Tom Wollenman grows oranges and tangerines in the San Joaquin Valley. He's also a director of the California Citrus Mutual, a non-profit grower-based trade association.

Good morning.

Mr. TOM WOLLENMAN (Director, California Citrus Mutual): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Where are you now? Where are you speaking to us from?

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Well, actually, right now I just left my office where I've been on my computer accessing my remote weather stations and getting a grip on how cold the weather is. And I came out here and I'm driving down one of the (unintelligible) and drives on one of my orchards here to make sure the equipments functioning correctly.

MONTAGNE: I gather there's a big fan going trying to warm up the crops or at least blow off some of the ice?

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Yeah. What happens, when these (unintelligible) there's a fan located at 35 feet in elevation, where, right now this evening, we have the temperature inversion that's seven degrees higher. So we're mixing that air that's seven degrees higher back into the orange grove to try to maintain higher temperatures in the orange grove.

MONTAGNE: Do you want to roll your window down, give us a sound of that fan.

Mr. WOLLENMAN: I'm pulling up right here. Here we go.

(Soundbite of fan)

MONTAGNE: Oh, yeah. Now it's gotten down into the teens here in Southern California. You're in the Central Valley. How cold has it gotten? What's the worst?

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Well, this is night five into this freeze there, and we've had temperatures in some of the lower areas down into the teens. Although we still have some viable fruit on the tree here. We're going to save some of it.

MONTAGNE: And when you say you have some viable fruit, how do you know that the fruit is good?

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Well, 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 a fruit open and see if I can find ice or slush in the fruit. And I've done this a long time, so I can tell whether this fruit is actually going to make it through. But we do have some fruit left.

MONTAGNE: You've taken a hit here. How are the farmers going to cope with this really catastrophic loss?

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Most of the people in this business are generational people or you're in it for the long haul. So we have these major freezes about every 10 years. So we do have frost insurance that comes into play. And as a rule of thumb, if you are a citrus farmer or any other kind of farmer, you always try to have one year's worth of farming cost in the bank at all times. So this farming is a gamble here. So you kind of live with it and you get yourself prepared.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

Mr. WOLLENMAN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Tom Wollenman grows oranges and tangerines in the San Joaquin Valley.

(Soundbite of music)

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