Freeze Had Greatest Impact on Young Trees

Josh McGillCold Hardy, freeze

Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association, and other industry leaders continue to preach to growers the need to diversify their crop portfolios. The Christmas freeze event that ravaged production in the Southeast last December should not be a deterrent for farmers hoping to produce citrus other than satsuma mandarins.

Tree age may have been more of a factor in freeze damage than variety type.

Yes, non-satsuma citrus trees were impacted more by the multiple days of sub-freezing temperatures than the cold-hardy satsumas that comprise the majority of the crop in the Sweet Valley Citrus region. But Savelle attributes the negative impact of the temperatures to the youth of the trees and not the varieties.

“Satsumas did hold up very well, but satsumas are our oldest variety. Age has a lot to do with it, too — small trees versus older trees,” Savelle said. “Seventy percent of our planted trees in the state are satsumas. We are preaching diversity because we don’t want to glut the market with only satsumas. A lot of the younger trees are those other varieties.”

Savelle reported that young trees took the freeze harder than more mature trees. “We’re still testing which varieties are more cold-hardy, but we know satsumas are,” she said. “Our grapefruit trees held up fairly well, but some of the young grapefruit did not, and also some of the other young varieties didn’t hold up well, either. That was a major bump in the road, and we hope we only hit that bump once every 34 years.”

Growers have planted more citrus like grapefruit and navel oranges in recent years, which supports Savelle’s claim that young trees succumbed to cold temperatures.

“Because we’ve been preaching diversification and encouraging people to plant something besides satsumas, they are doing that,” said Savelle. “I’ve had people say, ‘I need X amount of navel’ or ‘I need X amount of grapefruit,’ because some of their young trees were killed by the freeze. It’s encouraging that the infrastructure is there, and they’re coming back with resets.”

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Clint Thompson

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