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Placer County’s mandarins in race against time

Picking goes into overdrive ahead of stormfront
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
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With a week of rain in the forecast, Placer County mandarin growers have had to put their picking plans into overdrive to stay ahead of the storm.

Ranch workers were plucking the best fruit from foothills trees on Wednesday under gray skies and predictions from the National Weather Service that the storm would roll in later in the day.

June Bourn, of Newcastle’s S&J Mandarin Grove, said she felt fortunate to have someone picking Wednesday who could average about 1,000 pounds a day of mandarins.

“The rains are coming,” Bourn said. “You don’t pick it wet. It doesn’t work. It’s a nightmare.”

S&J ships half its crop in seven-pound gift boxes to points around the U.S. Even hand-drying can’t prevent the packaged fruit shipments from the risk of mold and a Christmas-present-gone-rotten on the receiving end.

The rain will continue through at least Tuesday, according to the weather bureau.

It comes at a time when the mandarin crop is at perhaps its sweetest. And the demand has been bigger than ever, Bourn said.

With shipping just about wrapped up, Bourn said that the pre-rain picking ensures there will be enough for the weekend’s big pre-Christmas farmers market in Sacramento.

The first round of rain was to start Wednesday evening and continue through Saturday, bringing totals of between 1 and 2 inches, Sacramento weather bureau meteorologist Brooke Bingaman said Wednesday.

Rain should taper by Saturday morning, providing a break in storm activity and an opportunity for area residents with a taste for orchard-fresh mandarins to drive out to one of the ranches that offer the fruit for sale onsite. But raindrops should start falling again by Sunday, with more arriving through Tuesday, she said.

“The Auburn area should have off-and-on steady rain into Tuesday,” Bingaman said.

Highland Orchard’s Tony Aguilar said the recent drop in temperature into the 30s during the nighttime wasn’t a concern for the Penryn ranch.

“It wasn’t cold enough to hurt anything but we’re keeping an eye on the long-term rain,” Aguilar said.

The big concern with the rain at this time of the year – when the mandarins are mature and in full color – is that the skins can be damaged, inviting in mold.

But into each orchard, a little rain must fall. And the weather service is predicting this is the week for that to happen.