(Jan. 17) California citrus industry officials on Tuesday said it would be at least a week after the freeze subsides before crop losses can be totaled, but their preliminary estimate places losses at $1 billion.

Joel Nelsen, president of the California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, said the freeze destroyed at least 75% of the San Joaquin Valley’s navel orange and lemon crop.

Before the freeze, which began Jan. 12, growers scrambled to harvest as much fruit as possible, and many will have at least a week before supplies dry up. Prices, however, reacted quickly with the imminent threat of California citrus being unavailable to retailers and foodservice operators.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 7/10-bushel cartons of shippers first grade California navels at $32 for 48s, 56s and 72s, compared with a range of $11 to $16 on Jan. 9. At that time, the smaller-sized 113s and 138s were ranged from $6 to $7, but on Jan. 9, those f.o.b.s were $22-24.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday made an unannounced visit to a Fresno County citrus grove. After getting a first-hand look at the damaged navel oranges, the governor proclaimed a state of emergency.

The proclamation directs the state’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to coordinate with USDA and other federal agencies to assure financial relief will be available to growers and farm workers. The governor directed the state agriculture department to work with county agriculture commissions and the agri-business industry to monitor the effects of the freeze on crops and livestock.

The governor’s state of emergency proclamation paves the way for seeking approval of low interest loans to affected grower-shippers.

He also took a swipe at Congress. He said more of the lemon and navel crops could have been harvested before the onset of the freezing weather if Congress had passed immigration reform. He said some fruit stayed on the trees last week because growers could not find enough workers.

Workers harvested damaged navels Tuesday to ship to juice processors. Doug Sankey, sales manager at SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, said it was an attempt to minimize losses.

James Sherwood, vice president of operations for Bee Sweet Citrus Inc., Fowler, said the packinghouse resumed limited packing fruit of that had been picked before the freeze.

He said Bee Sweet has been forced to lay off a significant portion of its workforce.

Cold weather damage was not limited to the citrus crops in the San Joaquin Valley. The California Farm Bureau Federation reported avocado trees in southern California have begun dropping fruit. The Farm Bureau said the freeze might also have damaged buds for next season’s avocado crop.

The Farm Bureau report said the cold destroyed most of the strawberries that were about ready for harvest in the coastal regions of southern California.

The California Strawberry Commission reported that deliveries of strawberries would be disrupted for at least two weeks. If strawberry plants survived the cold weather, the commission said they would begin generating new berries as soon as warmer weather arrives.

The Farm Bureau reported extensive losses of vegetable plants in desert growing regions. The bureau said the damage could affect supplied of spring crops such as corn, bell peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons.