(Jan. 16) California’s top agriculture official said the San Joaquin Valley’s prolonged freeze has dealt the citrus industry a blow worse than a 1998-99 freeze, and strawberry and avocado crops are also showing signs of damage.

As with the earlier freeze, which destroyed $700 million worth of produce across the state, f.o.b.s for oranges are anticipated to rise sharply. Because of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, f.o.b.s weren’t available Tuesday morning from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Early reports from citrus industry officials put the damage at $500 million. According to media reports, however, Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura on Monday said the effects of the freeze, which started Jan. 12 and continues to linger, will surpass that of the one eight years ago.

The citrus industry alone could see as much as 75% of its $1 billion crop lost.

Frank McCarthy, vice president of marketing for Albert’s Organics, Bridgeport, N.J., said prices had doubled since last Friday. He said the company gets most of its citrus from California.

Dan Spain, vice president of sales and marketing for Booth Ranches LLC, Orange Cove, Calif., said the company’s small acreage of lemons was wiped out. Booth Ranches has 6,000 acres of citrus, Spain said. He said about 75% of that acreage is in navels followed by valencias.

Spain said the record heat waves of last summer might have been a silver lining for the valencias. The fruit is very small, he said, and the trees should be able to heal themselves. But he said it would be a few months before growers can determine whether the freeze damaged the valencias.

“The damage to the navels is pretty severe,” Spain said.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said some growers have given up on salvaging fruit and are trying to protect the trees.

Nelsen said as many as 12,000 workers would be jobless because of the freeze.

Last week, the National Weather Service forecast a warming trend to begin Monday. The National Weather Service forecasts below-freezing temperatures through Wednesday morning. Overnight temperatures of 23-31 degrees are forecast for the night of Jan. 16. The average low temperature for the valley in January is 38 degrees.

Temperatures closer to normal are expected to return early next week.

Organic crops have suffered along with the conventional citrus varieties.

Steve Taft, president of Eco-Farm Corp., Temecula, Calif., said the company has a number of groves in the San Joaquin Valley. He said it was too early to tell how much fruit was lost.

Brenda Haught, director of marketing and vegetable category manager for Sierra Heights Marketing Inc., Porterville, Calif., said more than 50% of the growers’ organic navels had been harvested before the hard freeze hit. She said about 75% of the cara cara and satsuma crops had been harvested.

Haught said Sierra Heights, which represents more than 20 organic growers, has enough product packed to meet demand for ten days to two weeks. She said she expected prices to climb to early season levels.

Claire Smith, director of corporate communications for Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers Inc., said the company believes most of the lemon crop in coastal Ventura County survived. She said the toll on the San Joaquin Valley navels would not be determined for at least a week.

The cold front is also affecting neighboring Arizona. Tom Brooks, assistant manager of the Mesa Citrus Growers Association, Mesa, Ariz., said the cooperative’s members grow most of the state’s navels. He said losses will be significant.

It was a better story in southern Arizona.

Linda Manfredi, general manager of Yuma Mesa Fruit Growers Association, Yuma, Ariz., said damage was spotty and minimal. She said the cooperative’s 94 growers account for about 95% of Arizona’s citrus crops. She said they grow lemons, minneolas and grapefruit.