Tulare Citrus Grower Evaluates Freeze Damage
Ed Chambers is a citrus grower whose main acreage is located down by Richgrove in Tulare County.
Chambers grows “the whole gamut of citrus” on 650 acres, including murcotts, tangos, seedless Valencias, Satsumas, Navels, regular oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes.
Chambers assessed damage from the early December freeze, resulting from the temperature drop and short water supplies. “Of the 340 acres in the Richgrove area, I have 80 acres of late navels and they are hurt bad. They will probably go to juice; I think they may be a total loss.”
“The seedless Valencias are the same way, they were hurt pretty badly, but we have to wait and see about them,” said Chambers. ‘The same is true for regular navels, the old line navels and the Fisher navels, there was a lot of damage, but we don’t know to what extent yet.”
Chambers continued, “We have water and wind machines, but the temperature was down around 25 or 26 degrees (F) for too many hours over too many consecutive nights, and the fruit is not hardy enough to withstand such temperatures.”
“Wind machines were started 30 degrees or below and they went all night, but they bring down temperatures only a few degrees.” Chambers remarked, the low temperatures are hard to combat; if the wind machines don’t bring you up above 27 degrees, you are still hurting all the time.”
“The mercots and tangoes are thin-skinned,” Chambers said. “We did manage to keep the temperatures up a little more in those, and I think we will be able to salvage them. There is damage, but it’s not so that you can’t pack fruit.”
Chambers explained, “We had a really light crop on the late fruit, generally found in the middle of the block. I think when you have light crops, there isn’t enough fruit to keep everything else warm, and so they get cold more quickly.”
“I went into the citrus business for myself in 1967,” Chambers recalled. “In 1990, I spent half the night sobbing, looking at the trees facing temperatures of 16 or 17 degrees. It was the worst citrus freeze in history. There were spots in the Valley that were zero degrees. It was devastating.”
Chambers recalled, “1967 was a nasty freeze too. There were some freezes in the ‘70’s too, but back then we didn’t have any insurance.”
“Insurance eases the pain; in times like these, you don’t make any money—only about 2/3 of your cost of production,” Chambers commented. “ Some growers did not insure enough. The big insurance, for the most part, keeps you from going broke; but it is expensive. If you buy the big insurance, you can emerge with your costs covered, and maybe just a little more.”
“We’ll get through it,” declared Chambers. “We’ve gotten through every time before this. While this time was not as bad as ’90, I think it was worse than ’07 or ’98, a pretty tough one too.”