Citrus growers approve of 48 hour hold

Growers say the hold ensures California-quality fruit. Several farms are already looking at shipping fruit to juicers instead of packers, because of the freeze.
BAKERSFIELD, CA -- Many citrus growers and handlers are in favor of a 48-hour hold on packing fruit picked after Wednesday. They said it ensures quality of California produce. While industry experts said frost damage won't be as damaging to the industry as it was in 2007, growers say low temperatures forecast lower profits this year.

"The north side of the tree still has ice and it's ten o'clock in the morning, 11 o'clock in the morning," said Ben Taft who runs California Fruit Depot.

Taft said some of the 80-acre groves will not pass frost damage inspection, so he's not even going to try. He will pick the trees to clean them for next year, but instead of a packing plant, the fruit will head to a juicing plant.

"That's a red ink deal, right from the beginning," said Taft, who said juicing doesn't pay as much as packing sales. He said the California citrus industry is mostly "table fruit," shipped to U.S. and international grocers, and people often display the attractive fruit on tables before consumption.

On Tuesday, the Kern County Department of Agriculture requested growers and handlers hold citrus for 48 hours for inspection before shipping. Taft and Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual Trade Group agree it's good for the industry.

"We market based on labels and labels get reputations," said Taft.

"I don't think any grower or packer or shipper in the valley wants to tarnish that image."

However the current frost damage now opens the market to international competition such as China and Spain.

"There are brokers in this country, in this state, now trying to line up from other countries right now," said Taft.

While some of this fruit is heading to the juicing plant, growers are still confident that many more will be making it to supermarkets. Losing boxes of table oranges to freeze, though, will still cost growers big this year.

"There's a reason that oranges can grow in this valley, because we have mild winters," said Taft.

"Yes, we do get the 30s and 28s, but we don't get the 25s for 5 and 6 hours a time. When I got into this business they referred to it as the '10-year freeze', well, it's coming every four years now."


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