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The frost effect: Almond growers rejoice at cooler temps; cold kills local citrus crops

POSTED December 23, 2013 5:40 p.m.

Waking up to the windshield of your car frozen with ice and the chilling bite of a frosted morning are telltale signs that winter is officially here, but these weather conditions affect more than people’s morning routines as they play an essential role in the agricultural cycle.

With a frost that swept in early this December, the freezing temperatures have affected local crops in different ways. Almond farmers in the Central Valley are pleased with the chill as it enhances the almond crop by putting the trees into dormancy, or a sleeping state, to prepare for the spring bloom. However, not all crops are created equal, and citrus farmers have faced concerns this December as winter is their harvest season. 

“It is harvest time and the fruit is ripening so anytime you get temperatures that are below freezing, that will damage the fruit and there has been significant damage in the Central Valley,” said Wayne Zipser, executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. “Because they have had some low temperatures down around Visalia, about 21 degrees, the crops can’t stand that temperature even if you’re using frost protection.”

Although deciduous fruit trees, such as almonds or even grapes, benefit from the low temperatures, seasonality also plays a major role since frost during the wrong time of the year can damage crops.

“When we get into late February or early March, which is bloom time for almonds, those flowers become susceptible to frost damage. And we do get temperatures in March where we have to be careful and protect the crop the best we can,” said Zipser.

Farmers in general fight frost through the use of wind machines and irrigation, which raises the humidity in orchards thus lowering the rate at which temperatures fall. These techniques are used with citrus crops as well since a drop of temperatures below 27 or 28 degrees can cause severe damage. The weather can be a farmer's best friend or worst enemy and it is this constant change that is the only consistency year to year.

“The weather is just one thing we can’t predict. It is something that farmers deal with all of the time. Farming is risky,” said Zipser.

 

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