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US Farmers Face Big Winter Losses, With Two Months Still Left to Go

A freeze hits California's citrus industry hard, while animal losses from recent snow and ice storms are still being counted in the Plains states. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A lot of American farmers have had a rough early winter.

In California, citrus growers are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from a freeze earlier this month. Oranges and lemons in California's main growing areas were not the only victims. The arctic cold front known as the Siberian Express also damaged other fruit and vegetable crops.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger estimated losses at one billion dollars. He declared an emergency in ten counties to provide state assistance to those affected.

The freeze could mean months without work for thousands of farm laborers, packing house workers and truck drivers. It will also mean higher food prices across the country.

Much of the damage happened in the San Joaquin Valley, but it was spread around the state. Citrus growers in California store their fruit on the tree. Less than a third of this year's crop had been harvested when the freeze hit.

Avocados, strawberries and blueberries were also hit hard. The strawberries were nearly ready for harvest, and only about five percent of the avocados had been picked. Some avocado growers said this was their worst winter in sixteen years. Spinach, lettuce and other greens were also affected.

California is the nation's top agricultural state, and top grower of fresh citrus. Florida's big orange crop is used mostly for juice.

Right now, other states are struggling with the effects of snow and ice storms in recent weeks. In some places, there was six meters of snow on the ground.

Animal losses are still being counted in the Great Plains. The affected states include Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Some states have been approved for emergency federal aid.

Some ranchers still do not know where all their cattle have gone, or how many are dead. The Colorado Cattlemen's Association estimates that the final count in that state alone could be eight thousand to fifteen thousand. That would mean a loss of more than ten million dollars just in cattle.

In some states, National Guard helicopters not only rescued people but also dropped hay to cattle trapped without food in the snow. Shortages of hay have pushed up prices, adding to economic losses.

And even cattle that have been saved may not be out of danger. Many cows were pregnant, and many could lose their calves. Other cattle weakened by the conditions may not survive the winter.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Faith Lapidus.