Valley Citrus Growers Feeling More Pain As Drought Drags On

Jul 23, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Citrus growers in the Central Valley say fewer trees are producing fruit, so the price of citrus could increase at the grocery store.  But, farmers' costs have skyrocketed because of the drought.

Zack Stuller is a grower in Exeter. He says he hasn't received water from the Central Valley Water Project in two years.

He has spent $2,000 an acre foot for water from distant agencies and  $70,000 to dig a well for six-acres of lemons.

From Oranges to Grapes, California Drought Changes What's Grown

Jun 18, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Water scarcity is driving farmers to plant different crops. Growers are switching to more profitable -- less thirsty fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Nowhere is this more true than San Diego County where the water prices are some of the highest in the state.

Billowing orange and grapefruit trees shade Triple B Ranches winery and vineyard near Escondido. The rural setting is quaint and bucolic. The tasting room is a converted kitchen festooned with country knickknacks.

Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio

Over that last few years the citrus industry was hit hard by a freeze, a drought and a disease. This year, as Ezra David Romero reports from Visalia Thursday, the industry faces even more issues.

In the heart of California’s orange country more than 200 growers met this week at the 2015 Citrus Showcase to collaborate on how to keep their tangelo, lemon and mandarin trees producing ripe and juicy fruit.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The labor conflict that has clogged west coast ports in recent weeks has the Valley’s citrus industry on edge. FM 89’s Jason Scott reports.

Agricultural products from the Valley that should be making their way to countries like China, Japan, and Australia are sitting on the docks of west coast ports due to a labor dispute. While the ports reopened Tuesday, their shutdown over the weekend has caused a slowdown that has growers worried.

California Department of Water Resources

California Governor Jerry Brown made history Tuesday morning when he signed into law three bills that for the first time will regulate groundwater in the state. California had been the only state in the nation that did not regulate groundwater at the state level.

While many environmental groups praised the move, a number of valley agriculture interests opposed the new regulations. This week on Valley Edition, we talked to Joel Nelson of the Exeter-based group California Citrus Mutual about his concerns about the new laws. 

On a recent afternoon on the main drag of Orange Cove, Calif., about a dozen farm workers gather on the sidewalk in front of a mini-mart.

One man sits on a milk crate sipping a beer. A few others scratch some lotto tickets. Salvador Perez paces back and forth with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans.

If there is no water, there's no work, he says in Spanish.

California has more trees now than at any time since the late Pleistocene. And it comes as no surprise to residents of the San Joaquin Valley that our cultivation of trees has played a defining role in shaping the California we know today.

Ezra Romero / Valley Public Radio

The first breeding population of a potentially disease ridden bug that the California citrus industry has been fighting to keep out of the Valley was found in record number in the region Tuesday. Just under 200 Asian citrus psyllids were spotted on three backyard citrus trees in the community of Dinuba.

“We sent out our staff biologist and he was able to see all stages of the ACP, the eggs, the nymphs and the adults on more than one young citrus tree,” says Tom Tucker, the Tulare County assistant agriculture commissioner.

This week on Valley Edition we focus on a variety of issues that are impacting the region.

Ezra Romero / Valley Public Radio

Throughout Central California those who work in the citrus industry are on edge.  A tiny insect, no larger than an aphid, is threatening the future of the state’s billion dollar citrus crop.

It’s known as the Asian Citrus Psyllid.

“It looks kind of like an aphid, only with a harder body, and a little bit browner," says Beth Grafton-Cardwell, an entomology specialist with the University of California at the Lindcove Research Center just west of Visalia.

And the creature’s babies are just as pleasant.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Update: Saturday, 8:45 AM: Unexpected cloud cover late Friday and early Saturday kept temperatures slightly higher than forecast, enough to prevent damage to most commercially grown fruit. Lows in most places were in the upper 20's. Forecasts call for more extreme cold over the weekend.  ORIGINAL REPORT:

Valley citrus growers are in for a long night tonight, as what is expected to be the coldest evening of the year threatens to damage the region's citrus crop, with the most popular new variety, the mandarin orange,  most at risk.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Across the southern San Joaquin Valley, the commercial citrus harvest is virtually over. But over the past two months, a volunteer group has been working in backyards across Tulare county to collect fruit that would otherwise go to waste, and donate it to those in need. FM89's Joe Moore has this report.