Mandarin crop is lighter this year but as delicious as ever, farm adviser says

Acreage for the fruit has doubled since mid 1990s
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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It’s time again for the zipper fruit! Mandarin season is upon us in Placer County. Orchards are opening to excited customers and there’s some information mandarin fans should know about this unique fruit. Cindy Fake, horticulture and small farms adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension, said mandarins are an alternate-bearing fruit, sometimes resulting in larger crops, sometimes smaller. “It’s a pretty small crop (this year),” Fake said. “We had two heavy crop years, so it’s to be expected that it would be a pretty small crop year. The trees have to recover … so that’s why this year is a lighter year for most of the growers.” Still, the size of the crop does not determine its quality, she said. “It looks like it will be a good crop,” Fake said. “We’ve had the right kind of weather for it, and even though we’ve already had rain, it hasn’t been a really heavy rain that can damage the crop.” Duane Lewis of Newcastle Mandarin Ranch said his crop has not been greatly affected by the alternate-bearing years like some growers’ crops have. “I have 800 trees,” Lewis said. “I think my crop is just as big as last year, but my trees are still growing. I did 75,000 pounds last year and I’ll probably be up around that mark this year.” Lewis said because he has fewer trees and his trees are only 10 years old, the waves of good years and bad years for crops don’t affect him as much as his parents, who own Magnolia Hill Orchard in Newcastle. Their orchard has 1,200 trees and the trees are about 30 years old. As trees get older, the alternate-bearing years start affecting them more. “They’ll do 200,000 pounds this year, but last year was their alternate bearing (year) and I think they did 80,000 pounds,” Lewis said. Fake said there are 50 to 60 mandarin orchards in Placer County, and 25 to 30 are open to the public. Some orchards are not yet bearing fruit, because the mandarin acreage in Placer County has grown immensely in recent years and some of the trees are still too young. “The acreage doubled from about the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s,” Fake said. “It continues to grow. Fifteen years ago we probably had about 20 orchards and now we have nearly 60. Many of them are very small, but there’s more and more going in. Each year there’s a couple more orchards coming online with fruit.” Christine Turner, Placer County agricultural commissioner, said the booming mandarin crop has a significant effect on Placer County’s economy. “Our agriculture here in our county represents almost $60 million a year,” Turner said. “For mandarins, their specific contribution to our economy ranges about a $1 million a year. We have less than 200 acres of mandarins, but 200 acres of mandarins producing $1 million a year is pretty significant.” Turner said one reason people enjoy mandarins is that they are simply a very convenient fruit to eat, in that they are not difficult to peel like conventional oranges can be, and this makes them favorites with all ages. “People call it the zipper fruit,” she said. “It’s a pretty easy fruit for children to peel themselves. For little kids to be able to peel the fruit … and eat they whole thing, they love that.” The Journal’s Bridget Jones can be reached at or comment at -------- Mandarin synephrine Ready for another reason to get excited about eating mandarins? A U.S. Department of Agriculture study published in September found that Owari Satsuma mandarins grown in Placer County contain high amounts of synephrine, which is a natural element that can help relieve cold and allergy symptoms, according to the Placer County Web site. The study shows that Placer County mandarins have six times more synephrine than various orange juices that were tested. Cindy Fake, horticulture and small farms adviser for the University of California Cooperative Extension, said the high concentrations of synephrine are important because mandarin season corresponds with winter, when colds often run rampant. For more information on the study, visit the Placer County Web site ---------- Mountain Mandarin Festival A celebration of mandarins is coming to town. Starting Friday, mandarin fans can participate in a celebration of the fruit. The 15th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. The festival will include 13 mandarin growers, who will be set up on the road in front of the Placer building, so festival participants will see them immediately upon entering the fairgrounds. Karen Spencer, a member of the Newcastle Area Business Association, which is hosting the event, said the small mandarin crop and hard economic times have not affected the number of growers at the festival. In fact, the festival features about two or three times more growers than it did in its first year. Festival-goers can also enjoy more than 200 vendors, each featuring at least one mandarin item. There will be a mandarin recipe contest, live bands, crafts, chef demonstrations and more. This year will be the first that admission will be charged for the festival. Spencer said the business association only implemented the fee because it was absolutely necessary. “With the skyrocketing costs we just can’t keep offering a free event and keep the quality of the event,” Spencer said. Friday is a preview day and admission will be $1 for ages 16 and up. A discount coupon can also be found on the festival’s Web site. Admission will be $5 for ages 16 and older on Saturday and Sunday, and $3 for seniors age 60 and above. 15th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival When: Noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23 Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn Call: (916) 663-1918 Web site: