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Farmers’ Market Report: Winter Freeze – Expect Delays:

Small farms around California suffered a variety of damage and loss to their crops earlier this month.

Farmer Romeo Coleman from Carpinteria remembers the night – January 12 – when extreme low temperatures resulted in early morning damage to his young lettuces and tender transplants – a total loss to crops destined for harvest over the next several weeks. It is not just the cold; it’s the duration of the cold, day and night, that causes loss and damage to crops, Romeo explains. The ground never has a chance to warm up during the day, so row crops that are jolted by overnight chilling don’t have a chance to bounce back even when the sun shines. Coleman’s hardy winter greens survived, but snap peas and flowers did not. Asked if he plans to raise his prices, Coleman looks surprised. “I don’t think so,” he says. “This is farming. We shouldn’t make our customers pay for Mother Nature’s quirks.”

Elsewhere around the state, commercial citrus farmers have been hard hit with major crop losses, and they announced right away that the price of winter navel oranges would rise. Due to extreme shortages of navel oranges at farmers’ markets, farmers will raise prices up to 20 percent – trying to make the most with the fruit they have in a season that will be shortened by more than half. In Ojai, Pixie tangerine grower Emily Ayala of Friends Ranch is one of 25 Pixie farmers looking out for her high-value tangerine crop, which was due to begin harvest in March. Ayala anticipates a 30-50 percent loss of Pixies this year, and an undetermined loss for next year, since this year’s frost affects next year’s blooms.

Avocados and lowland lilacs, in bloom now, may also be severely affected by the freeze, but mountain lilacs from Tehachapi are taking the cold in stride and should be fine. Ripe avocado fruit may freeze – more worrisome is the damage to stems holding the unripe fruit, which may cause them to drop to the ground before they reach maturity, rendering them non-saleable.

Mature greenhouse and hydroponic tomatoes were heavily picked in advance of the freeze, but new growth will be slower so there will probably be gaps in production. Strawberry plants, which have arctic genes, will survive the frost, but ripe berries and blossoms are gone, and new growth could take weeks to reappear. Apples, kiwi and winter squash have already been harvested and will be fine, but even hardy winter crops like cauliflower and broccoli have suffered some damage. Farmer Alex Weiser took care to mound extra soil on his potato beds.

It will take weeks to realize the full impact of the recent cold spell. When you are at the market, be prepared for shortages, but be sure to thank the farmers for what they have been able to bring. This is farming. We will get through this together

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