VISALIA, Calif., Jan. 10 /PRNewswire/ -- Thanks to good planning and a little help from Mother Nature, California orange growers are back in full swing with the promise of an estimated 86,000,000 cartons of oranges one-year after weathering the record-breaking freeze of January 2007 -- the worst in most recent years -- that wiped out 40 percent of the navel orange crop. With agriculture being a major industry in California and citrus accounting for a healthy amount of the total revenues, the $800 million citrus loss was a huge hit for growers, packing houses, suppliers and ultimately consumers around the world. Beholden to Mother Nature's unpredictability and grateful for her tenacity, growers look back on the key learnings that preserved 37 million boxes of fruit from a crop that early reports said was nearly a complete loss. California's orange groves benefit from unique growing conditions and nutrient-abundant soil that yield the premium citrus in the world. Unfortunately in 2007, prolonged drops in temperature turn the citrus belt's natural insulation from weather fluctuation into a devastating ice box effect. The majority of growers, now mostly third and fourth generation farmers, have years of experience under their belt and have come to understand the cyclical nature of freezes, but the severity of the 2007 freeze was unprecedented and resulted in serious crop damage. Some of the affected fruit was used for orange juice production allowing growers to recover a small portion of their production costs. For five days beginning Jan. 12, 2007 temperatures dropped into the low 20s in California from the Mexican border to the Sacramento Valley. "Operating a business at the mercy of Mother Nature is risky," said Rob Davis, a third-generation citrus farmer who manages 300 acres of groves in Ojai, California. "Most citrus trees only produce fruit once a year so it's critical to always be vigilant and always be prepared." In fact, looking back on history, the California groves have been hit by harsh weather about every eight to ten years with recent significant losses in 1990 and 1998. With each new generation, more experience is gained, better business practices (including buying crop insurance) are added and more sophisticated farming methods employed to help growers identify ways to protect their product and their families. For example, growers now know the precise freeze point for navel oranges. At 26.5 degrees ice crystals begin to form and the oranges begin to freeze. Third generation citrus grower and owner of LoBue Brothers, Joe LoBue emphasized, "It really only takes a couple of degrees difference to lose everything. In January 2007, growers knew to immediately bring in mechanical wind machines to protect the trees as the cold set in. Some even set small bonfires between the trees and ran turbine fans to keep the fire-warmed air circulating around the groves." One year later, the California citrus growers are moving forward with a renewed passion and energy as they have done for generations. Their commitment is evident in the delicious California navel oranges this season. Trucks loaded with crates of juicy California navel oranges are once again rolling up to grocery stores across the country, a tribute to Mother Nature's goodness and the hard work of California orange growers. Primed to perfection by this season's warm, California sunshine, rich soil and ideal growing conditions, this season's crop is plentiful and especially sweet. Second-generation citrus farmer Mike George of Suntreat in Lindsay, California adds, "As a grower, you never know what card Mother Nature is going to deal, so you learn to live under the aegis of weather you can't control and prepare yourself for seasons of abundance and seasons when you have to tighten your belt. Looks like Mother Nature is shining on us for 2008." For more information on the California Citrus Growers Association, visit http://www.calcitrusgrowers.com.
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SOURCE California Citrus Growers Association