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California Oranges: A Dying Breed

Updated on January 8, 2011


What is there to say about California's most northern source of citrus cultivation? In short--it's in extreme danger. In 2007 Orland, California citrus production has dropped from 7.20 tons per acre to 4.74 tons per acre, from a 3.6 million dollar business to a 1.5 million dollar business. The last three of four years has not been kind to the unique agricultural region--these three nonconsecutive years has brought crushing freeze damage that has nearly ruined the industry. Throwing in to the mix the fact that the last packing-houses left nearly ten years ago, and the result is that the remaining oranges do not have a place to go. Currently CALTRANS does not allow billboards along Interstate 5, which further limits the outreach of the few citrus orchardists that are left in the area.

A frost-bitten valencia orange tree.  Photo courtesy
A frost-bitten valencia orange tree. Photo courtesy

Brief History of California Oranges

The primary citrus product grown in the Orland area is the common navel orange--cultivated through an odd genetic mutation in Brazil in 1820. The navel orange as we know was transformed and stabilized at UC Riverside in 1870. The navel orange has thicker skin and larger than the valencia orange--which is primarily grown in Florida. The navel orange is perfect for fresh fruit, but far less so for juice production. The U.S. Agricultural Department edicts that California oranges that have been been affected by freeze may not be sold as fresh fruit--they must be processed as juice or thrown away. The nearest citrus juice processing plant is at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Not only does it not make logistical (and thus economical) sense for the citrus growers to ship their frost-biten fruit down south, but California oranges sold for processing averaged a net worth of -2.06 per box in 2005/2006 and -.97 in 2006/2007. The reason for the split years is that California oranges (at least in Orland) are harvested during december and january.

A Suitable Climate

So the question lingers--why did orchardists who came to the area think it was such a great idea? This question is exacerbated by the point that there used to be (insert number) acres devoted to citrus production. The Orland area is unique area for citrus production--it is in a unique microclimate that allows growth for citrus. It is in zone 9 according to the Sunset Western Garden book--this means the lowest temperature during the coldest months range between 28 and 18 degrees fahrenheit. Freeze damage begins at about 29 degrees and can effect the fruit within 4 hours (the lower the temperature, the quicker they will freeze). Locations in zone 9 are referred to as the "Thermal Belt of California's Central Valley". Chico is in zone 8 (the "Cold-air Basin of California's Central Valley") and temperatures drop to a low of between 29 and 13 degrees fahrenheit--just a little too low in temperature to sustain an orange production operation. Simply put--the cold air from the westerlies during the winter avoid Orland, but do impact Chico--this is what makes the Orland area seemingly decent for citrus cultivation, although freezes do occasionally occur.

California is a primary producer of Navel Oranges.   Photo courtesy
California is a primary producer of Navel Oranges. Photo courtesy

San Joaquin Competition & Externalities

Most orange production occurs in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and to a lesser extent the Inland Empire region, and to an even lesser extent Ventura County. Then there is little Orland--with not a citrus growing neighbor within almost 200 miles. Even 200 miles away in Stanislaus county, there is no packing-house (the life-blood of a successful, far-reaching citrus industry). The inconvenient location of other, far larger citrus growing areas has squeezed (forgive the pun) Orland out of a competitive, far reaching market. Why would anyone want a citrus packing-house in the Sacramento Valley area? They wouldn't--it doesn't make economic sense.

Statistics & Conclusion

To give you an idea of the competition southwards, here are some statistics: Kern County grew 26,785 acres of (just) navel oranges in 2000, with 5,000 more acres added before 2008. Tulare County grew 62,064 acres of navel oranges in 2000, with 10,000 more acres added before 2008. Glenn County (where Orland is) grew 361 acres in 2000 with 3 acres added before 2008. 3 acres--that's no typo. As you can see, the Orland citrus growing region is critically endangered by competitors in southern California and is a victim to its picky climate. So what can you do to preserve California's northern-most citrus growing region? Buy their oranges. These California oranges are local, and they don't have to drive 400+ miles to meet you. There is also 6 remaining organic citrus growers left, with 112 acres to spare. So take your pick! California oranges grown locally may not be here forever--cherish them while you can.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      this is very useful for me

    • eatlikenoone profile image


      7 years ago from Saline, MI

      It's sad that when I went to Orange County during orange season there wasn't anywhere nearby to pick my own oranges. The oranges I got from the farmer's markets (which were still delicious and much better than what I get in Michigan) were from 4-5 hours away.

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      8 years ago from US

      nice one, although I buy produce from Florida, according to the package,

    • profile image

      Ron D- 

      8 years ago

      I grew up in the groves of California's "Inland Empire" - the area east of Los Angeles out near San Bernardino where we produced the world's largest concentration of naval oranges. By the 1960's we were being overwhelmed by suburban sprawl from Los Angeles even though the LA city center was 70 miles west of us. Taxes on our groves were increased to what the land would bring with subdivisions built on it to 'encourage' development of the "wasteland" filled with groves. I didn't follow in my family's ranching business and moved away. Now, with all that nostalgia, I will admit that it was several years after I left before I picked up an Orange as a "snack" again, and I was sorely disappointed in the flavor of a fruit so long from the tree. It was a long time because, as a kid, any time I wanted a snack I was directed to the ever-present crate of oranges sitting on our back porch for just that purpose ;-)

    • Direxmd profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      You're very welcome Ann Nonymous, and thank you for your continued support!


    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 

      9 years ago from Virginia

      As I was drinking a glass of orange juice today I thought how much nicer it would have been to have freshly squeezed OJ. Unfortunately there is no space in my backyard for a tree and I am on the east coast so I won't be buying from CA's dying orchards anytime soon. Wish I could help though. It's always sad to see our naturally grown plants handed over to some mega produce cultivation! Thanks for a great read, direxmd!

    • christine almaraz profile image

      christine almaraz 

      9 years ago from colorado springs

      i'm from cali too and miss it and it's wonderful produce. i haven't had a good avocado in awhile.


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