Looming below-freezing temperatures in the cold-hardy citrus region have growers on high alert regarding their remaining crop.
Forecasts call for temperatures to drop to the 20s in Tifton, Georgia, on Dec. 23, according to Weather.com. Growers will have to decide on how to handle their remaining fruit, said Kim Jones, citrus producer and packinghouse owner. Jones is president of the Cold Hardy Citrus Association, which caters to fruit produced in North Florida, South Georgia and South Alabama.
“As far as the trees are concerned, I think we’re fine. Most everybody has enough water to put out there to produce heat in the groves, and that will warm up the groves enough to keep it from killing the trees,” Jones said. “The problem is the fruit that is on the trees. What do we do with it? Do we pick it all right now when it may not be quite ready, or do we take a gamble and see if we can get through this freeze and have better fruit behind this cold? It definitely would make the acid drop more, so the taste would probably be even better.”
Jones said most of the satsuma mandarins have been harvested in the cold-hardy citrus region. What remains are navel and Hamlin oranges, Shiranui mandarin and lemons.
What is especially concerning is how long the sub-freezing temperatures are expected to linger. It is a tough decision for growers like Jones to make.
“Heat is not good for citrus, what we had a few weeks ago. That 80 and 85 degrees when fruit ripens is just not good on them at all. And now here we are two weeks later. We’re going to see temperatures in the low 20s it looks like. It’s a tough game for the citrus people, no doubt about it,” Jones said.