Trying to save the citrus with old technology

Smudge pots burn in a grove in east Redlands, just after 6 a.m. Sunday. Redlands-Loma Linda Patch photo by Guy McCarthy

Citrus growers in the Inland Empire fired up seldom-used smudge pots, ran water in the orchards and tried to create wind between the trees in desperate moves on Saturday night and this morning to protect the fruit from freezing temperatures. Smoke could be seen rising this morning from burners in citrus areas such as Redlands and Mentone.

From Guy McCarthy at Redlands-Loma Linda Patch:

The current cold snap is a concern for growers statewide, with an estimated $1.5 billion in fruit still ripening in groves from the Inland Empire to the Central Valley, according to the growers association California Citrus Mutual.

Old-school smudge pots burned and glowed in rows in a grove next to Citrus Avenue in east Redlands before 6 a.m. in pre-dawn darkness. Growers also had water flowing in the groves to keep ground temperatures warmer, and some of the water formed ice on trees and fruit.

Wind machines on towers, some driven by modified auto engines, droned overhead in many groves.


"We don't use smudge pots any more," Houtby said. "We run water to warm up ground temperature and use wind machines to circulate the warm air. We stopped smudging in the 1960s. There are some places where they still smudge. But that's not the industry standard for reasons of air quality and effectiveness."

Houtby said $1.5 billion worth of fruit - about 75 percent of the citrus crop statewide - remains on trees, still to be harvested.

Alyssa Houtby is with California Citrus Mutual in Tulare County, in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California.

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