SAN LUIS OBISPO, California: Unseasonably cold weather in the county over the past week is seriously threatening the area’s avocado crops–and with them the livelihoods of local growers. While an exact figure is not yet available, monetary losses resulting from temperatures that have dipped as low as 14◦ in some parts of the county have been estimated to be well into the millions of dollars. According to Bill Coy, a Cayucos avocado and citrus grower, preliminary totals of crop losses averaged about 50 percent to 80 percent.
And the deep freeze will likely continue for at least the next few days. According to the National Weather Service, overnight low temperatures aren’t expected to rise much above 30◦ until at least Thursday night.
For now, growers are crossing their fingers and watering their trees more than usual, using heated water, in hopes of minimizing frost damage. Throughout the cold spell, growers have irrigated fields and groves with warm water and used wind machines to circulate and maintain a warmer air temperature around trees, in a desperate struggle to keep their crops within a safe temperature range.
It appears that next year’s avocado crop is in even greater danger than this year’s, however, since most of this year’s fruit had already been harvested before the cold snap began. The buds of next year’s crop–already on the trees–have suffered the greater damage. While the most significant damage statewide has been to citrus crops–since California is the No. 1 producer of fresh citrus–locally, avocados have caused greater losses. Other crops–including strawberries and cut-flowers–have suffered, as well.
Prices of affected crops are expected to triple, as crop losses and increased costs of efforts to salvage remaining crops are passed on to the consumer. David Pruitt, of Ball Tagawa Growers in Arroyo Grande, a local company that produces a variety of seedlings, including pansies and marigolds, whose greenhouses are warmed using water heated by gas boilers, has stated, “The cold multiplies our gas use enormously. The boilers are just cranking full blast.”
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday due to sub-freezing temperatures throughout the state. As a result, the California Office of Emergency Services is working closely with other state and federal agencies in an attempt to provide financial assistance to growers in the state whose livelihoods are threatened by the unseasonable cold snap.
Nearly all of California’s winter crops have been negatively affected by current below-freezing weather conditions, and while the state’s citrus crop is the one expected to suffer the greatest economic losses, that brings little consolation to San Luis Obispo County avocado growers, who have their own serious losses to contend with.
Yet, the hardy, pioneering attitude and optimistic outlook of local growers remains strong. Says Coy, “Growers still have fruit, and they will survive this. We’re still very much alive, and a lot of us still have a crop.”
- “Prices soar for California citrus after temperatures plummet,” Olivia Munoz, AP, January 16, 2007
- “Avocado damage put in the millions,” P. Kim Bui and Kathe Turner, The Tribune, SanLuisObispo.com, January 16, 2007
- “Cold again, but not quite so bitter,” Sarah Arnquist, The Tribune, SanLuisObispo.com, January 16, 2007