Biz Buzz: Growers take steps to protect crops from frost

As temperatures dip below freezing, citrus and avocado crops are the most at risk countywide, agriculture officials say.

Since most of the wine grapes have been picked, the frost shouldn’t affect the county’s top-producing crop, which accounted for $166 million, or 27 percent of the combined value of the county’s agricultural industry last year.

But citrus and avocados — subtropical plants — could be damaged.

“They can tolerate the cold as long as it doesn’t go below 28 degrees for six hours or more,’’ said Bob Lilley, the county’s agricultural commissioner.

Avocados, the county’s 13th top crop, accounted for $9.2 million last year, while lemons ranked 18th, with $6.1 million.

Morro Creek Ranch in Morro Bay, whose avocados were damaged in the 2007 frost, used wind machines Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning to prevent damage, ranch manager Alan Cavaletto said. The ranch plans to continue using them as needed this week to draw warmer air from above and keep it circulating through the plants, he added.

The ranch used helicopters three years ago because it didn’t have wind machines, he said. It now has five wind machines.

Although Morro Creek Ranch recently harvested this year’s crop, upcoming crops are at risk of damage, Cavaletto said. Forty percent of its acreage — 90 of 220 acres — is in the frost area, he said.

Others affected by the frost include greenhouse owners, who face significantly higher heating bills on cold nights to protect sensitive nursery products such as flowering potted plants and cut flowers, Lilley said.

Overall, he said, “This time of year, it’s not that unusual to have a hard frost, so most of the agriculture industry is prepared for it.”

— Tribune staff

Cellular One now part of AT&T

Cellular One customers in San Luis Obispo County are now AT&T customers. The changeover follows AT&T’s acquisition of SLO Cellular, which had operated under the Cellular One brand in San Luis Obispo County since 1995.

AT&T would not disclose the terms of the acquisition.

At the time of the transaction, 5,800 customers were contracted with Cellular One. Included in the sale were 46 Cellular One cell phone tower sites.

Over the next year, AT&T will perform network and service integration in the former Cellular One territory.

All 20 Cellular One employees will remain on staff.

— Stacy Daniel