(Jan. 10) Powerful Santa Ana winds that roared through Southern California Jan. 5-7 left plenty of hopes scattered on the ground. An avocado here. An orange there. Bruised strawberries still clinging to the vine.

The winds, which knocked fruit off avocado trees in groves from San Diego County north to Ventura County but died down by Jan. 8, won’t be enough to quell harvests, though.

Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Ana, Calif., reported that winds blew about 5% of the California avocado crop off trees. With this year’s crop estimate at 400 million pounds, that works out to be about 20 million pounds on the ground.

However, some of the avocados will be picked up and sold as “windfall” avocados. But in the Valley Center region of San Diego County, fruit that hit the ground cannot be sold.

That is because a quarantine is in place there to prevent spread of the Mexican fruit fly.

Still, the loss is not expected to cause major shortages.

The crop was fairly large this year, so in most cases it will simply make supplies more manageable, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo. However, it could lead to higher f.o.b. prices for fruit that wasn’t damaged by the winds, shippers reported.

STRAWBERRIES

Ron Uesugi, vice president of southern operations for Naturipe Berry Growers, Irvine, said that in the area where Naturipe’s Irvine strawberries are grown, about two out of three fields were hit hard and sustained damage from the winds. Damaged fruit is being culled, he said.

Some of the fruit came out in pretty good shape and picking continues, Uesugi said. Damaged fruit will be sold as second grade or go to juice, he said.

In addition to fruit damage, some trees on the edge of strawberry fields were torn out by the winds and landed on the strawberry fields, Uesugi said.

Doug Circle, president and chief executive officer of Sunrise Growers, Anaheim, Calif., said that although strawberries are being culled pretty heavily following the winds, any disruption in the harvest cycle will be short lived. By Jan. 13, production and shipping of strawberries should be back to normal, Circle said.

Sunrise Growers farms strawberries in Baja California, and San Diego, Orange and Ventura counties in California. Orange County seemed to be the hardest hit by the winds, Circle said.

Citrus: Citrus growers in River-side and Orange counties said they were fortunate that crops such as lemons and valencia oranges had not yet bloomed. Had blooms been in place, winds could have caused substantial damage, they said.

After a close inspection Jan. 8, the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office reports there was damage beyond the scars on some navel oranges, caused by swaying tree branches during the winds.

“Some navel oranges blew off trees,” said Dustin Wiley, deputy agricultural commissioner for the Riverside County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office. Wiley said the amount of oranges blown off would not be known for several weeks.

Out of 5,919 acres of orange trees grown in Riverside County, growers harvested 3,793 acres in 2001.

BLOWHARD BLUES

Winds ranged from 25-35 mph with gusts of 70 mph in the orange growing regions of western Riverside County, said John Demshki, president of Corona-College Heights Orange & Lemon Association, Riverside, Calif.

The northeast winds hit peak speeds of 60-70 mph in prime growing areas and knocked out power in many locations in San Diego and Orange counties.

Meteorologists described the winds as the strongest to hit Southern California in about 10 years.

Considering the strength of the winds, the California avocado industry dodged a bullet, Wedin said. That is because in many cases winds blew strongest in areas with light production and less damaging winds blew where production is heavy.

Also, Santa Barbara County, which has a large avocado crop this season, did not get hit as hard by the winds, Wedin said.

But the trees themselves took quite a beating, Wedin said. “The trees look terrible,” he said.