Orange growers to squeeze out sweet season

RIVERSIDE, Calif. This is a critical time for citrus growers. Historically, if they can make it to Jan. 15 without a major freeze, their crop will likely be safe. With no freezes predicted in the near future, growers are hoping for a good year.

It's was a busy Friday morning at the Ems Orange Block in Highland. Pickers were hard at work, collecting this year's harvest. The sun was shining, which was a good sign for the owner of the crop, Wes Ems.

"California sunshine ... it's nice," said Ems.

The sun is like a warm blanket wrapped around local oranges. Ems treats each tree on his 20 acre property like a member of the family.

"I like to be with them, and I hope they like me with them ," said Ems.

But sometimes even Ems can't protect his harvest from the bad weather. Worrying about a freeze this time of year is critical. So, the holidays often bring stress to growers all across the Inland Empire.

"The weather is critically important. It's do or die," said Bob Knight Jr., another citrus grower.

Two years ago, the crop died. A fierce freeze choked the life out of the harvest. Many growers were devastated.

"That year we actually lost 30 percent of our total crop. Some of our growers lost the whole thing," said Knight. "It basically means putting in a year's worth of labor and expenses, and in just a matter of an hour, the whole thing disappears."

Citrus growers say it just takes a few hours below freezing to destroy an entire crop. However, this year, the oranges have color and the pickers are busy.

"As long as it's not a long duration freeze ... four hours, or six hours ... then we can squeak through," said Knight

If they can, there will be plenty of fresh oranges for their Inland Empire customers, and plenty of work for the pickers. That is pretty sweet news in an otherwise sour economy.


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