'Too early to tell' citrus frost damage
Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Marilyn Kinoshita said it’s too early to determine the extent of frost damage to the county’s citrus crop by the recent cold snap.
“It’s too premature to even come up with a thought on it,” Kinoshita said Friday. “We’re in the very initial stages and just like any frost event, we’re trying to quantify if we even have scorable damage.”
Alyssa Houtby, director of public affairs for California Citrus Mutual — a consortium of the state’s citrus growers — said that in speaking to the Kern County agricultural commissioner, who echoed Kinoshita’s words, she believes damage to the crop will be minimal.
“We’re not expecting any significant damage; nothing catastrophic at all,” Houtby said. “It’s not significant enough to influence prices or influence supply, it’s nothing more than you would expect from an event like that.”
With warmer temperatures this week, inspectors are just now working on assessing damage in some of the county’s hardest-hit areas.
“We’re just picking samples of fruit from areas where we know are cold spots year after year and we bring them and hold them for three days and then cut them, which is what we did on Thursday,” Kinoshita said.
She said Tulare County, like other citrus counties in the state, will share its results with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“Our industry partners will then get together and decide what the next step is, but we aren’t there yet. We’re just taking samples,” Kinoshita said, adding that the process may take a couple of weeks, perhaps a month before they share their results with the CDFA for input.
“Depending on daytime temperatures and lots of other factors — sugar content of the fruit, toughness of the skin — there’s so many variables, we might know a little more a month from now,” she said.
Kinoshita, who has been with the Tulare County ag commissioner’s office since 1993, said she’s been an inspector and cut her share of oranges at packing sheds during similar frost events. She said this frost event has been “hyped up” and that citrus growers have not gotten due credit for their efforts.
“I think our growers really know how to take care of their groves and protect them as much as possible. On any given year, they could have more insect damage — there’s always something — so they expect some loss, because you can’t pack 100 percent of your fruit,” she said. “I’m sure they’ll just chalk up a few damaged oranges as part of their normal pack out.”
On Wednesday, California Citrus Mutual said that based on grower reports, the industry had collectively spent $23.1 million since Jan. 10 to protect a $2 billion crop.
Houtby said growers’ frost protection was beneficial.
“It definitely did the job of keeping the crop protected, it kept things in a good condition,” she said.