Race on to save Plaquemines citrus crop ahead of hard freeze

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 6, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 6 at 7:21 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

Expected low temperatures could kill what's left of the Plaquemines Parish citrus crop.

It was all hands on deck at Ben Becnel's farm near Jesuit Bend, south of New Orleans Monday. Becnel and his crew were out in the orchard, picking what they could ahead of two freezing nights with the potential to ruin a year's worth of profits.

"If it goes below 25 tonight, for more than 5 hours, the fruit will freeze," said Becnel. Becnel had about 5,000 bushels of lemons, oranges, satsumas and grapefruit left to harvest before the cold weather hits. "I'm figuring somewhere around $150,000 to $200,000 worth of fruits still on the trees," he said.

"We are in a speed up mode. We been picking fruit for three days now. " While citrus growers are scrambling to pick as much fruit as they can, the LSU AgCenter recommends that home owners who have citrus trees in their back yard, do the same.

"If there's any doubt, harvest all the fruit," said County Agent Alan Vaughn. "Put it in the ice box. It will stay two months in the ice box. That's not a problem. Harvest all the fruit you can, put it up."

Vaughn says the damage is easy to spot. "Just open the fruit and see if you see ice crystals," he said. "If there's ice, it's been damaged. The water has frozen and expanded the cells of the fruit to make it explode."

Ben Becnel says best case scenario, the clouds stick around to help trap some of the daytime heating. "It's going to be devastating to the fruit," said Becnel. "If these clouds clear out of here, we're going to have real trouble." Lemons and limes are the most susceptible to damage from cold temperatures. Satsumas are the most cold hardy citrus fruit grown in Louisiana.

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