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 VISALIA, Calif., Feb. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- "Last year at this time, we

feared freeze damage so severe that recovery could take years. Today, we have such abundant crops that our concern is getting it all sold." With that contrast, Russell L. Hanlin, president of Sunkist Growers Inc., illustrated the near-miraculous recovery of the Western citrus industry from the Christmas freeze of 1990 as he addressed the more than 1,300 grower-members of Sunkist attending the cooperative's 98th annual meeting Feb. 5 in the Visalia Convention Center.
 1991, Hanlin reminded growers, was a year of unprecedented adversity with a late maturing navel crop, declining orange juice values and -- a monumental weather disaster. "Beginning Dec. 20, 1990, the longest, coldest freeze in California history swept the state. With 75 percent of the winter navel crop still on the trees and the summer crop of valencias just developing, all of the citrus fruit in the San Joaquin Valley was destroyed. We didn't know until spring when the trees leafed out how remarkably well the majority of trees had survived."
 While Southern California and Arizona growing areas were also hard hit by the freeze, about 75 percent of the crops in those areas survived with moderate damage. They were to provide Sunkist its only supplies for the remainder of 1991.
 "It was a genuine disaster," said Hanlin. Overnight, fresh fruit volume was cut virtually in half from an estimated 87 million cartons to 48 million -- 11 million of which had been sold before the freeze. Central California packinghouses closed their doors. Hundreds of growers had no income. Thousands of citrus workers were suddenly jobless. The economic impact was especially severe in the citrus belt towns where livelihoods rely heavily on the fruit. In some communities, unemployment rate exceeded 50 percent.
 "I am very proud of the care we have, collectively, extended to citrus workers who were left without jobs for 10 long months. Even as we struggled to recover, Sunkist, its growers, employees and affiliates contributed more than $400,000 in cash and merchandise to local food banks. We successfully lobbied for extended unemployment benefits and we helped arrange distribution of $2 million of surplus Desert Storm food rations."
 From the beginning, Sunkist worked diligently to secure disaster relief for growers. Many times, said Hanlin, it appeared that effort had failed. But, even after most others had abandoned the project, Sunkist persisted and finally, last December, legislation was approved and signed by the president. "Without Sunkist's campaign, this could not have been achieved and without legislation initiated by Sunkist, valencias would not have been qualified as a 1990 crop," said Hanlin. (A program presented by officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Services to explain disaster relief benefits was held at the start of the annual meeting.)
 The damage caused by the freeze necessitated major reductions in every department of Sunkist's operations, said Hanlin, the most painful being the elimination of more than 200 jobs. In total, expenses were reduced by more than $13 million. "Every cutback was made carefully with the objective of maintaining sufficient operations to properly handle the remaining fruit and to preserve the marketing and administrative infrastructure essential to resume normal operations for the next season," Hanlin added.
 "The year of the great freeze ended on an astonishing note: 1991 produced the second highest sales revenue in Sunkist history at $955 million; and the second highest grower earnings in its history at $713 million. Sadly, for half of our members," Hanlin concluded, "little of this money got beyond the Tehachapis. Conversely, growers in Southern California and the desert who survived the freeze saw substantial increases in income."
 Touching on the new season, Hanlin noted that it has held several surprises, not the least of which is a larger-than-expected, later-than- normal navel crop. "As the year progresses, carefully designed marketing plans have been adjusted, and presuming decent weather and a somewhat stable economy, we anticipate very satisfying results from the 1992 crop," he said.
 Following the business section of Sunkist's annual meeting, growers heard John Pehrson, the recently rehired subtropical horticulturalist from the Lindcove Field Station of the University of California. Pehrson discussed the results of the freeze survey conducted by the farm advisers of the Central California citrus counties in cooperation with Sunkist, which evaluated various frost protection methods on different root stocks.
 -0- 2/5/92
 /CONTACT: Curt Anderson or Claire Peters of Sunkist Growers, 818-986-4800/ CO: Sunkist Growers Inc. ST: California IN: FOD SU:

KJ-CH -- LA014 -- 7263 02/05/92 14:03 EST
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Date:Feb 5, 1992

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