(Jan. 18) The National Weather Service predicts that the nearly weeklong hard freeze in California is ending.

Overnight lows in the San Joaquin Valley for Jan. 18 are expected to be 26-32 degrees.

Saturday night could bring the first break for growers. Lows for Jan. 20 are predicted to be 29-38 degrees. The average overnight low for January is 38 degrees.

The end of the freeze will come too late for most of the state’s citrus industry. Officials estimate more than 70% of the navel orange and lemon crops have been destroyed.

Prices for navels have more than doubled since the freeze hit Jan. 12.

Chuck Olsen, owner of The Chuck Olsen Co., Visalia, Calif.; Mike Keeline, salesman at Cal Sales Marketing, Visalia; and Atomic Torosian, co-managing partner for Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif., quoted similar prices.

The carton price for fancy 72s was $32, while 88s were selling for $28 and 113s for $24. Torosian said his prices were slightly higher.

Prices are dramatically higher than year ago prices. On Jan. 16, 2006, the U. S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b. prices for fancy California navel oranges at $10-11 for cartons of 72s. Cartons of 88s were selling at $7.50-8.50 and the price for 113s was $6-6.50.

Olsen and Torosian said they believed the California navel deal for the season will be exhausted in three to four weeks. Both are importing citrus from Mexico and Spain.

While the focus has been on the citrus crops, it appears the freeze damaged some vegetables, too.

Eric Schwartz, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables, Salinas, said vegetables in Huron, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., suffered freeze damage. He said iceberg and romaine lettuce were hit especially hard.

Schwartz said the low temperatures in Yuma have caused supply shortages. Because the Huron lettuce plantings are at an early stage, he said it will be about three weeks before workers will be able to assess how many plants were lost.

Warming trend spells end to damaging freeze
Icicles hanging from navel oranges early Jan. 17 at a family farm in Tulare County. The icicles form on the skirts of trees when growers use drip system emitters to warm the air. Slightly warmer temperatures, 26 to 32 degrees, were forecast for Wednesday and Thursday nights. A gradual warming trend was forecast to begin Saturday.