Another key agricultural commodity in the region is citrus, a $3 billion industry employing more than 20,000 full-time workers. Roughly half of the navel orange and mandarin crop is already harvested in the Central Valley but the warm temperatures in January and early February caused citrus trees to bloom a few weeks before they typically do, so the early growth is now vulnerable to frost damage.
“Where we might see some damage, and we’re watching for this, is on the new growth,” said Alyssa Houtby, a spokesperson for the California Citrus Mutual, which represents more than 80 percent of the state’s citrus industry. “If there’s any significant damage to a majority of that bloom that’s on the tree, we might see an impact to next year’s crop.”
Meantime, any significant damage to crops could lessen the farmworker shortage in the Central Valley this year but also have ripple effects on the local economy that depends heavily on agriculture-related employment.
Jacobsen said last year was “an extraordinarily tight year” for farm labor supply in the Central Valley and arguably the tightest the region has seen in a decade. “The damage to crops is going to probably be more of a dictator of what kind of labor is needed for this year,” he said.