Orange crops in Florida and California, by far the country's two largest producers, are fighting battles on almost every front a farmer can face. As boxes of California citrus fruit rot on the docks amid labor disputes dragging on at many of the state's shipping ports, Florida growers are concerned that a blast of frigid air that's expected to hit the state on Thursday will freeze next year's orange crop before it even grows.
Freezing temperatures are expected to all but completely blanket the Sunshine State over the next 24 hours, and temperatures may fall below 20 degrees in the center of the state, where many of its farms and groves are located, according to Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Tampa.
Many crops are threatened, but orange growers are concerned that one day of bad weather will cut into two years of harvests.
Here's what’s worrying growers in the two states; they have already harvested about half of this year's total crop. But the balance is still on the tree. Oranges can withstand temperatures of about 30 degrees for up to four hours. Growers can also spray the tops of the trees with water, which forms a layer of ice and keeps cold air out of the trees. But the flowers cannot withstand freezing temperatures at all. And next year's fruit will grow out of this year's flowers.
From the bloom on for next year's crop, they will have to go out on Friday morning and see how the trees look.
Despite the trouble, the outlook is not entirely dire. They are still producing oranges. Nobody's quitting, nobody's throwing arms in the air. We will get a solution, we just don't know when.
Things are more desperate for California citrus farmers. The ports slowdown is stalling the shipment of oranges and other citrus to Asia, a market that collectively buys around 25 percent of the California orange crop. Oranges are particularly popular during Chinese New Year, which is Thursday, as a symbolic and festive fruit. China, including Hong Kong, is the second largest market for California orange exports after South Korea.
"The ports slowdown is having a very significant impact on our business and has the potential to be catastrophic if it continues," said Bob Blakely, vice president of California Citrus Mutual, a group that represents citrus growers in that state. "We are into the peak of our export season, and this week our shipments were off 50 percent compared to the same week last year."
This worry comes amid a dry winter in what has now become a six-year drought for the state. Many growers have already exhausted their well water and may not be able to grow a crop at all next year.
This could mean the 2015-2016 crop of oranges could be a lot smaller than planned. It is hard to put a number on the potential damage.
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