Valley citrus growers preparing for Winter Blast

The Rio Grande Valley's citrus growers are in a rush to prepare for the winter blast, but they say there's not much they can do when they're up against a wall of cold.

Growers are trying everything from flood irrigation to harvesting in order to save as much citrus as they can, but besides that, it's just a waiting game.

Roberto Rodriguez was picking citrus as fast as he can.

"To finish early," he said in Spanish.

And he's picking as much as he can.

"Tomorrow is going to be cold, and we might not be able to harvest. That's why we're harvesting all that we can," said Rodriguez.

With temperatures forecasted to ddip into the 30's and 20's this week, growers are being extra cautious to protect their citrus.

"We're just trying to get as much fruit harvested in the short window we have before the cool weather pushes in," said Paul Heller, production manager of Rio Queen Citrus.

Heller said if the citrus develops ice crystals, fruit can spoil or prematurely drop from the tree.

"As long as it does not stay at or below 28 degrees for three or fours hours, we will not expect much fruit damage," said Ray Prewett, president of Texas Citrus Mutual.

He said the last time there was significant fruit damage from cold weather in the Valley was in 1983 and 1989 when temperatures dropped to the teens.

"We're hopeful it's not going to be too much below freezing and that we'll be fine," said Prewett.

But growers are still doing what they can just in case. They're even flood irrigating trees in the grove.

Heller said it serves as insulation because moist soil releases heat to the trees better than dry soil.

"On the smaller trees that are here in the grove, we put a dirt bank around them. We build dirt around the tree," he said.

Heller said the dirt around the young tree serves as a blanket to help protect the young bark, so even if the top of the tree freezes off, the young bark will still be healthy and will continue to grow.

Heller said if temperatures stay in the mid 20's or below for a few hours, there could be damage to the fruit.

But he doesn't expect those temperatures to damage any trees because the trees in the groves do not have any new leaves.