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Farmers worry as cold grips California

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February 26, 2011 | Leave Comment

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Almond growers and other tree fruit farmers in Central and Northern California are bracing for possible crop damage this weekend as unusually cold temperatures gripped the state and set low-temperature records.

Temperatures in the San Francisco Bay area dropped into the 30s and upper 20s early Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Stumpf said. The previous record low of 38 degrees in downtown Oakland was broken by four degrees.

Besides the cold, some hilly areas of San Francisco also received a rare dusting of snow.

Forecasters say temperatures across the state are expected to dip even lower early Sunday, possibly breaking records in Southern California and again in the Bay area.

Almond, peach, plum and other tree fruit farmers in the Central Valley were trying to combat warnings of a hard freeze — when temperatures fall below 28 degrees for three to five hours —which in effect for northern parts of the Valley on Sunday morning.

“We’re running water to raise the temperature in the orchards,” said Wayne Brandt, owner of Reedley-based Brandt Farms, which grows peaches, plums and nectarines on several hundred acres.

The southern half of the Valley was under a freeze warning from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Temperatures could dip as low as 26 degrees in cold outlying areas there, according to the weather service.

“If its gets to 26, then that’s pretty bad,” said Michael Kelley, president and CEO of the Central California Almond Growers Association. “That would be a deep freeze and pretty devastating.”

Almond, peach, plum and nectarine trees that are in bloom are most vulnerable to freezing temperatures.

Kelley said about 35 percent of the almond crop — valued between half a billion and a billion dollars — is in bloom. California produces 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds.

Unlike citrus farmers, tree crop farmers generally don’t have wind machines and other frost protection devices because there isn’t much of a reason for it, said Dave Kranz, spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“Deciduous fruit trees like cold weather earlier in winter because they depend on chilling hours to push them into full dormancy and burst out in bloom,” he said. “Once they are blooming, then they are vulnerable.”

Kranz said the remaining citrus fruits on trees are well into their growing season and should not be affected by the temperatures.

The Associated Press

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