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Citrus damaged as freeze clings to West

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
This Jan. 12, 2013, photo shows frost on a tree with oranges in an orchard near Sanger, Calif., after a night of freezing temperatures. As an unusual cold spell gripped parts of the West for a fifth day, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona. (AP Photo/The Fresno Bee, Craig Kohlruss) LOCAL PRINT OUT (VISALIA TIMES-DELTA, REEDY EXPONENT, KINGBURG RECORDER, SELMA ENTERPRISE, HANFORD SENTINEL, PORTERVILLE RECORDER, MADERA TRIBUNE, THE BUSINESS JOURANL FRENSO); LOCAL TV OUT (KSEE24, KFSN30, KGE47, KMPH26)

FRESNO, Calif. — As an unusual cold spell gripped parts of the West for a fifth day, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona.

In California's San Joaquin Valley, where farmers are fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on their trees, Sunday temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in some areas and stayed low longer than previous nights.

Prolonged temperatures in the mid-20's or below cause damage to citrus crops.

“It was our coldest night to date,” said Paul Story of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state's 3,900 citrus growers. “I think mandarin growers are going to see a range of significant damage.”

Mandarins are more susceptible to cold than other citrus and start to freeze at about 32 degrees, Story said. Many mandarin trees were planted in recent years as the fruit's popularity soared.

Other citrus crops saw little or minimal damage, Story said. High sugar content in oranges helped protect them, he said, because sugar inhibits freezing.

In Southern California, strong winds helped to keep crops out of danger by keeping the cold from settling. Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles fell to 34 degrees, breaking the previous record of 36 degrees set on Jan. 14, 2007.

To the east, the freezing temperatures have done enough damage to southwestern Arizona lettuce crops that prices are increasing, said Kurt Nolte, a Yuma, Ariz.-based agricultural agent for the University of Arizona.

The area provides much of the nation's leafy greens during winter. Farmers are reporting damage to many romaine and iceberg crops. The cold is freezing the heads of the lettuce and affecting the quality and yield, Nolte said.

The price for a carton of lettuce in Yuma two weeks ago was $7 to $8. As of Monday, it costs around $20 per carton, he said.

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