Jan 15, 2013 11:17 AM by Katie Ferber, KSBY News

Central Coast avocado growers use helicopters for frost prevention

While many people were asleep during the coldest hours of the night on Monday, Central Coast farmers and ranchers worked through the night protecting their crops.

Alan Cavaletto of Morro Creek Ranch tells KSBY, "Everybody works all year long for the crop to come in. You have to follow through you can't cut corners with frost protection."

The Morro Creek Ranch avocado orchard is a multi-million dollar a year operation. Cavaletto, the ranch manager, has been up every night this week making sure his orchard doesn't get too cold.

He's getting some help from high-tech agriculture. "We have monitoring system in the orchard and it will send a phone call to me. It will send me a text message telling me I've got a predetermined temperature I want to to be notified at and it gives me enough time to get going."

He says the first line of defense is irrigation, then the wind machines kick on. If it's still too cold the helicopters get to work.

The helicopters can be ready at a moment's notice. Cavaletto says, "In one pass they can raise the temperature three degrees. So it can change things very quickly."

The helicopters push the warmer air down into the orchard, and help to push the cold air up off of the ground, away from the trees and fruit.

Helicopters are used often in the Central Valley for this type of crop protection. Cavaletto says his ranch is lucky to have their own because during times like this, they're in high demand.

Cavaletto says the late hours are part of the agricultural lifestyle. He says the team waits it out drinking lots of coffee, knowing what they're doing will pay off in the long run. "It's what we've got to do. We've got to bring the crop in and this is crucial part of bringing the crop into for the next year. It's not only protecting what you'll see in the grocery store this year."

Not only does prevention save this year's crop, it also helps protect the trees for years to come. If temperatures get too cold, the freeze acts like a fire. It can be so damaging that the tree won't be able to produce fruit for a few years, or even ever.

He tells us they're lucky to have technology like the text alerts and helicopters. He says his grandfathers didn't have the helicopters to use. Years ago frost protection was limited to wind machines and smudge pots.



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