FRESNO — Citrus growers said Tuesday they lost at least $800 million during a recent five-day freeze, the most devastating blow to the industry in more than a decade.
The report by California Citrus Mutual is the first detailed accounting of the cold snap — originally estimated to cost nearly $1 billion — that is expected to leave 12,000 workers out of jobs and increase fruit prices.
More than 70 percent of the state’s citrus crop was hanging on the trees during the frost earlier this month, ruining most navel and Valencia oranges and nearly all of the tangerines, and damaging lemon trees in the Imperial Valley, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, a trade organization.
“We expect that number to grow. We’re going to find more damages along the way but some of that we won’t know until spring or even summer,” Nelsen said.
The recent freeze hit farmers harder than a three-day cold snap in 1998 that caused an estimated $700 million in losses.
While a freeze knocked out the entire citrus crop in 1990, the recent cold hit a broader swath of crops, killing avocados in the San Diego area, strawberries along the coast, and cut flowers in Southern California.
Those growers are still tallying losses, and some won’t know the impact until spring. State agriculture officials said overall losses could top $1 billion.
Avocado growers saw as much as 30 percent of this year’s projected 400 million pound crop freeze and fall off the trees, according to the California Avocado Commission.
It will be several weeks before a more solid assessment can be made, but the commission said there will be enough avocados to meet demand for Super Bowl weekend. Later in the year, imports from Chile and Mexico will be brought in and prices will rise, said Mark Affleck, commission president.