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Frozen oranges on an orange tree

The frosty night

On the way home, the thermometer in the car was reading 0°C. I called Paco to ride it out together and give each other some moral support. They were predicting the coldest night of the year.

– “Paco, tonight looks really bad.”
– “I know, it looks like it’s going to be below -4°C for several hours and that could be terrible.”
– “Let’s see how cold it gets. I’ve been talking to Sergio and Ernesto and the temperatures are also quite low where they are. We’re all pretty worried.”
– “Let’s hope the breeze keeps up overnight, Juan; otherwise, it could be a disaster.”
– “God help us!”

That night, believers and non-believers alike said a little prayer. Days when frost is predicted are some of the worst possible for a citrus farmer. You don’t sleep a lot on nights like that. You’re constantly checking your phone to see the temperatures and almost obsessively refreshing the weather forecast website. If I’m having a bad time, you can imagine how the farmers are feeling.

On the night of Monday, 11 January 2021, all the weather forecasts were saying that our Valencian citrus fruits were going to get cold. Really cold. Temperatures between   -2°C and -5°C were forecast. For most Europeans this isn’t cold, but our beloved citrus fruits were not designed for this. They definitely prefer sun and a sea breeze.

Grass frozen by the cold

The mildest level of frost damage ends up freezing the most exposed or least protected fruits on the tree. The most serious damage makes all the oranges freeze, the branches get burnt, and the trees die. Depending on how ripe the oranges are and how much sugar they have, they’ll be able to withstand the cold better. When slicing open an orange, you can see some white spots resulting from Hesperidin’s crystallisation due to low temperatures. One of the side effects is that the segments break open and the juice is released into the fruit. As there’s always calm after a storm, when the sun beats down and the tree needs water, it’s easier to get it from its own oranges than from the ground. This juice that had been released into the orange when the segment broke is absorbed by the tree and the orange dries out.

– “Paco, what a bummer. How bad has it been?”
– “Pretty bad Juan, I thought that the breeze would have helped, but it went down to -3ºC during several hours and lots of oranges froze.”
– “That’s crazy, Paco. This happening just now, when we were about to start shipping the boxes…”
– “Those frosts always happen when you’ve done all the culture work, and you are finally ready to sell your harvest. But, Juan, my friend, nature shows us again that she’s the boss here. Being situated in an area where it can get chilly makes our oranges taste better, but a variation of 2-3º is crucial and makes the difference between a good orange and a frozen one.”

Statistics prove to be right again: 1 in 10 years, there is always a bad year with frosts. Even though it doesn’t happen often, when it happens it’s always a bummer. With this post, we want to send our support to all the Farmers that have experienced the same difficulties in 2021, knowing that it’s going to be tough for them to overcome this season financially.

The farmer Paco Alufre and Juan Plasencia in a field of orange trees