Farmers on edge with continuing cold weather

Damage to citrus, avocados may not be known for a couple of weeks

dsneed@thetribunenews.comDecember 9, 2013 

Farmers are continuing to take steps to protect their crops from frosty overnight temperatures.

Alan Cavaletto said Monday that helicopters are on standby for a second night of flying over Morro Creek Ranch, his 225-acre avocado orchard near Morro Bay. Five helicopters flew from about 3 to 4:30 a.m. Monday, forcing warmer air trapped by an inversion layer down onto his crops.

So far, the technique has kept the temperature in the orchard at 34 degrees, enough to avoid crop damage. Some pockets along the coast got down to 30 degrees.

“We’ve really dodged the bullet,” he said. “I’m sure one of these nights we are not going to be so lucky.”

Cavaletto uses a combination of burn pits, propane-powered wind machines and helicopters to prevent freezing air from settling near the ground where it can damage the fruit. The technique only works when there is an inversion layer that prevents warm air from being lost completely.

Five helicopters flying over the orchard in the middle of the night is quite a sight.

“They have big lights on them,” he said. “It’s like something from outer space.”

Tim Spann, with the California Avocado Commission, said crops along the Central Coast have not experienced any widespread damage. A few isolated spots have had temperatures low enough to possibly cause damage.

“It will be a couple of weeks before the full extent of any damage is known,” he said.

Martin Settevendemie, county agricultural commissioner, said his office has not had any reports of crop damage. Citrus trees are also vulnerable to frost, but those trees have already been harvested.

In addition to warming the crops, some farmers are covering their crops to protect them from the chill.

Temperatures are expected to warm somewhat this week, but overnight temperatures could continue to drop below freezing through Wednesday morning, said John Lindsey, a local forecaster with PG&E.

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