RAIN Damages Alfalfa; Benefits Wheat

Above-Average California Rain Affects Larry Hunn’s Crops

by Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

For fourth-generation farmer Larry Hunn of Hunn & Merwin & Merwin, Inc., based out of Clarksburg, Calif., the price of alfalfa is low this year due to water damage from late rains. Nevertheless, cannery tomatoes, cucumbers, safflower and wheat are looking pretty hopeful.

Larry Hunn
Larry Hunn

Mold from rainfall is a big issue in growing alfalfa; it not only reduces the quality of the perennial grass, but it reduces the nutritional value as well. Dairy farmers won’t buy it. “It has really depressed our alfalfa prices.” said Hunn.

On the bright side, rainfall has been beneficial for Hunn’s above-average winter wheat and safflower crops this year. “We had nice rainfall spread out through the whole winter,” he said. “It didn’t come all at one time and flood us out, so that was good.”

Hunn’s hard red winter wheat is drying down in the field, and will be harvested mid-June and sent mainly to flour mills for bread making. The safflower is still growing and looking healthy on a few hundred acres—acres that have been in his family for four generations—and won’t “come off” until late August or September.

Beginning in South Sacramento on 47th Avenue, Larry Hunn’s great-grandfather started farming in the late 1800s, and his grandfather moved to the Delta in the early 1920s, where they’ve been farming ever since. Hunn & Merwin & Merwin Inc. now operates on close to 3,000 acres in Yolo and Sacramento Counties.

Hunn’s other crops have already been contracted with a buyer. “All the cannery tomatoes are in the ground growing, and they look pretty good. We’re in the process of planting cucumbers, that’s just a continuous until the first of August,” mentioned Hunn.

The only disadvantage are the cool breezes from snow atop the Sierra Mountain range that is keeping temperatures low on the cucumbers and tomatoes. Hunn remarked, “I wish it would warm up a little bit. We’re only in the mid-seventies, low eighties, and it would be nice to be up in the mid-eighties or low nineties.”

Overall it’s been a decent year for the veteran Clarksburg grower.

(Featured photo: Alfalfa on edge of field of Larry Hunn, Hunn & Merwin & Merwin, California Ag Today)

Imperial County Breaks Ag Production Record in 2013

The big Imperial County Region had a record year of Ag production value in 2013 of more than 2 billion dollars.

“It’s the first time that we ever hit the 2 billion dollar mark. We hit 2.158 billion dollars this year in production value,” said Linsey Dale, Executive Director of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.  Dale is based in El Centro—the county seat of Imperial County.

“We had a bump in price of cattle last year, we had a bump in the price of some of our forage crops last year, and our onion market went up a bit, broccoli market went up a bit, so there were several different crops that had an increase in price in 2013 over 2012,” said Dale.

Dale says that agriculture drives the economy in Imperial County. “We are the single biggest private employer in Imperial County, agriculture is. It has been since day one and will continue to be. If we lose agriculture here in Imperial county we lost Imperial Valley. We have thousands and thousands of jobs in farm services providers and right in production agriculture, its a tremendous impact,” said Dale.

Dale noted that Imperial County, through the Imperial Irrigation District, has some of the strongest water rights in the state. “We do have a very strong water rights. Water is a key issue for us here, we have very little rainfall, less than 2 inches per year. All of our water comes from the Colorado river, so with drought conditions here in California currently, areas are looking at us to produce that the fruits and vegetables need for the nation, especially for the winter months,” Dale said.

“We produce crops 365 days a year, some of our fields actually have 3 crop rotations. We get cuttings on alfalfa year-round, and again we have that strong water right that is necessary to be able to grow these crops,” said Dale.