Agriculture: Frostbite In the Groves

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The list of casualties runs from artichokes to zucchini. A huge, brutally cold mass of arctic air laid siege to California for six days in late December, bringing snow to places that had not seen it in a lifetime. The killer freeze devastated the state's agricultural industry. The navel-orange crop, which provides 90% of the U.S. supply, virtually vanished overnight. About 80% of the fruit may be a loss, costing growers nearly $500 million. Lost jobs and other indirect costs could reach an additional $500 million. Because the cold harmed the trees as well, recovery may take years.

At least 20% of the avocado crop was destroyed too. Melons, strawberries, celery and even hardy winter vegetables like broccoli will probably be reduced in number and quality. Flowers were hit so seriously that Pasadena's Tournament of Roses parade will decorate many floats with leaves, bark or out- of-state blossoms. The entire U.S. will soon feel the chill. The wholesale price of increasingly scarce navel oranges has more than tripled, to $28 a box, and the cost of concentrated orange juice has moved up 15%. Growers have requested California Governor George Deukmejian to declare a disaster area. As the new year approached, another Arctic Express was moving toward California's frostbitten groves.