Waiting for Any Sign of Rain

The Lack of Rain is on the Minds of Growers throughout California

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

We spoke with Joe Del Bosque, a diversified grower in Western Fresno and Madera Counties. He farms Almonds, Cherries, asparagus and cantaloupes. He is concerned about the lack of rain.

“We started the water year in pretty good shape with the most of our reservoirs above normal and I think they’re probably still in pretty good shape,” said Del Bosque. “But of course right now it’s starting out like a dry year.”

“We typically have some rains up in the north part of the state by this time of year. And the last time I checked the pumps of the Delta were not running for quite some time there and so we were not picking up hardly any water,” he said.

And, any water coming through those pumps ends up in the San Louis Reservoir. “And the San Louis Reservoir water level was dropping, but hopefully we can pick up more water here as we get into the rainy season.

The fear is that it doesn’t look like any storms, even in the short to long-term forecast.

“That’s exactly right. That’s what I’m seeing. There’s nothing in the near future, at least the next couple of weeks. So yeah, it’s starting to concern us. Absolutely,” noted Del Bosque.





Abnormal Weather, Temperatures, and Pests

A Year of Unusual Weather Affects Vegetable Crops

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

A year filled with abnormal weather is starting to show its effects on vegetable crops. Tom Turini of the University of California Cooperative Extension Fresno County, who is a plant commodity specialist, shared some of the early seasonal problems he has witnessed.

“We had unusual weather this year—a very cool, late spring—and with the rains we’ve had, we expected to see some issues that are unusual. We just didn’t see the incidence of those problems that we would have expected,” Turini said.

Turini added that levels of beet curly top are relatively low and tomato spotted wilt is densely populated in some areas. He also noted that the early appearance of the consperse stink bug seems to be having a measurable impact on crops, specifically on the west side of Fresno County.

Sharing Secrets to a Successful Bowl of Cherries

Weather and Pruning Make Life a Bowl of Cherries

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

Clark Goehring, a third generation Kern County farmer, produces cherries and almonds. He summarized his cherry harvested as “good compared to the other years when we have had rain. Some people in our area still had rain during harvest, but we were able to harvest and bring our cherries to market in good condition.”cherry tree

“Of course, it rained a lot this winter and spring, but you do not want rain when cherries are maturing on the tree; they don’t like rain.”

Goehring explained that when it rains beyond the point when cherries start coloring, they split, making them unmarketable. “But while it may take some rained-on cherries off the market, the price of the marketable fruit goes up,” he said, benefiting those growers who had a quality crop, like him.

Goehring’s farm workers train the cherry trees to keep them low—approximately 8 feet tall. “We have tried to have them bush out instead of being more of a central leader. Actually, it’s called Spanish Bush style or, in modified form, KGB.”

Kym Green Bush designed the KGB training method in Australia to use multiple leaders and have them fruit on the leaders themselves. KGB simplifies pruning so less experienced farm workers can learn the skill more easily. The trees are replenished every five years.

Goehring said the method saves money on the farm, cuts labor and increases workers’ safety because it requires no ladders and the harvest is quicker. Harvesting without ladders also gives Goehring an advantage of attracting farm labor over other orchards that require ladders.

“In California, if farm workers have their choice of picking your cherries without using ladders, which is usually piecework, or someone else’s crop with ladders, they are going to want to come to you,” he explained.

Interesting Forecast: Wetter Winter, with Possible Deep Frost?

Weather Pattern in California Could Hurt Citrus, Predictions Say

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director


Some meteorologists are seeing evidence of  weather data on the North Pole that could point to more rain and snow this winter. However it could come with several freeze events, which could hurt crops, especially citrus.

The Global Forecast Center is a group of meteorologists in Northern Idaho that conducts weather forecasting for agricultural interests throughout  Florida, California and portions of Texas. In fact, they work closely with California Citrus Mutual.

Tom Dunklee, president and chief atmospheric scientist, Global Forecast Center and its associated “WeatherWatch” service, said, “What we see in our frost outlook is a cold year coming up and a bit of an increase in rainfall, which will make everybody happy. But we may have to pay the price with some very cold temperatures following these fronts.”

meteorologist Tom Dunklee of the Global Forecast Center
Tom Dunklee, president and chief atmospheric scientist, Global Forecast Center

“The rains may be more frequent, but they will not be real big rain producers. They won’t be like El Niño years, where you get an inch and a half of rain or more. They will be cold, wet weather systems that come through, one half inch of rain at a time, followed by a possibility of frost,” Dunklee said.

Dunklee predicts the rain events may be followed by some dry weather for three or four days, then by another front coming through, doing the same thing. “What we are seeing is the type of weather pattern we saw in the late 1960s. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had one of these years shape up,” he said.

“I don’t think we are going to have a “Miracle March.” Instead, we are going to have a warm and drier than average spring. Most of the moisture is going to come in December, January and February, comprising those frequent frontal systems. Most of them will be followed by cool air and showery weather. Then the weather will dry out for three or four days, and the wet weather will return.”

Dunklee spoke of the intrusions of the cold arctic air that could arrive. “We think the intrusions will be from the North and Northeast—from Montana coming down through Nevada, then through the San Joaquin river drainage bringing quite a bit of cold air filtering into the [Central] Valley, and we’ll get the possibility of a hard frost, and maybe a freeze sometime in late December,” Dunklee said.

Dunklee also spoke about an increase in snowpack. “At the 7,000 foot level this year we may see higher than average, about 120% to 130% of average snow fall. It will be on the average of about six or seven feet. It may not actually get that deep at one time, but the potential is there for that,” he said.

“Most of the time it’s going to be about two, three feet of snowfall during the real cold months. Then in the spring it will melt fairly quickly, but it potentially is  going to be a good snow pack, a little bit higher than average,” Dunklee said.

Farmers protect citrus crop from freezing weather

By Steve Adler; Ag Alert

San Joaquin Valley citrus, which last year suffered multimillion-dollar losses due to freeze, escaped a similar fate at the turn of the new year, even though temperatures dropped to well below freezing.

The entire state felt the impact of a cold front that moved through California from Canada, and it was a particular concern in the citrus belt that extends north from Kern County to Madera County.

Cold temperatures prevailed throughout citrus-growing areas for six nights, prompting growers to activate their frost-protection measures. California Citrus Mutual said groves in Riverside, Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties all experienced temperatures dropping to 26-29 degrees for short durations.

CCM President Joel Nelsen said there could be “isolated areas of damage” to mandarin groves, particularly to trees and fruit farthest from wind machines, but he said any losses “should not affect volume or price significantly.”

The two primary citrus crops grown in the citrus belt are navel oranges and mandarins. Of the two, navels are more cold-tolerant and typically become vulnerable to frost only when temperatures drop below 28 degrees for several hours or for several nights in a row. Mandarins, on the other hand, can suffer freeze damage once temperatures dip below 32 degrees.

Any damaged fruit that won’t pass quality standards to go into the fresh market would go to processing, said Bob Blakely, CCM vice president.

The current citrus harvest began a few weeks ago, and an estimated 75 percent of the fruit remained on the trees when the cold weather began. Growers use wind machines or irrigation systems, or a combination of both, as frost-protection measures. By irrigating, growers can elevate the ground temperature slightly. Wind machines help to keep the air moving, breaking up pockets of cold air that can create problems.

Citrus Mutual estimated there are more than 22,000 wind machines throughout the citrus belt, most of which operate on propane. The organization estimated Monday that farmers had spent more than $16.5 million on frost-protection measures during the six-night freeze operation.

Given the drought situation, Nelsen said, most growers remained “very judicious” in using groundwater for frost protection.

“Our information is that pumping groundwater has been minimal,” he said.

One of the most water-starved areas is Terra Bella in Tulare County, where many farmers bought emergency water at high prices last summer to keep citrus trees from dying in the drought. Many of those growers have a little bit of that water left, and said they were using it to protect their groves from frost.

“On our farm, we bought some emergency water last summer and we still have some of that available to us until February,” said Roger Everett, a citrus grower in Terra Bella, “so we are using that water that we have left for frost protection. Growers who didn’t buy any of that water probably don’t have any water available for frost protection.”

Everett said it has been his experience that citrus trees are able to tolerate the cold fairly well, but the fruit can be vulnerable. Blakely of CCM agreed with that assessment.

“In California, it is typically a case of lost fruit rather than a killing of the trees,” he said. “Our conditions here in this state are such that in the wintertime we have enough cold temperatures where the trees can go into a quasi-dormancy, where they can withstand quite low temperatures before we have any damage to the fruiting wood.”

The freezing temperatures came just over a year from a December 2013 freeze that caused an estimated $441 million in citrus losses.

Consumer demand for navels has been quite good, bringing “decent” prices to farmers, Blakely said.

“Prices were higher a few weeks ago, but we are starting to see them come off a little bit. Consumer acceptance of the fruit has been very good and demand has remained steady. Movement in the domestic market last year was actually higher than it was in the previous year. In the wintertime, there really aren’t any other producing areas that are providing navel oranges to the United States. However, if there is an event that causes a reduction in the California crop, some of that market could possibly be taken up by some of the European mandarins,” he said.

San Joaquin Valley citrus wasn’t the only crop or region that faced potential crop losses due to the freezing weather. Temperatures of below 32 degrees were recorded in the Coachella Valley as well as the desert areas of the Imperial Valley and Yuma, Ariz. The cold temperatures caused some reported production losses to all varieties of lettuce as well as to spinach. As a result, customers might see some short-term shortages in the next couple weeks, farmers and shippers said.

The Coachella and Imperial valleys and the Yuma area produce about 90 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables. Cold weather slows plant growth and delays the daily harvest activity until the plants begin to thaw in late morning or early afternoon.

California Coming off Warmest Winter on Record

United States weather scientists have revealed California is coming off of its warmest winter on record, aggravating an enduring drought in the most populous US state.

The state had an average temperature of nine degrees Celsius for December, January and February, an increase from 5.8°C in 1980-81, the last hottest winter.

Reuters Newsagency reports that figure was more than four degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the 20th-century average in California, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement.

Warmer winters could make the already parched state even drier by making it less likely for snow to accumulate in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, NOAA spokesman Dr. Brady Phillips said.

“Winter is when states like California amass their main water budget, when snowpack is building,” said Dr Phillips, a marine biologist. “If you’re starting from a deficit and going into the dry season, it’s setting you up for a drier summer.”

Reuters reports California is in the grip of a three-year dry spell that threatens to have devastating effects on the state and beyond.

Farmers are considering idling 200,000 hectares of cropland, a loss of production that could cause billions of dollars in economic damage, and several small communities are at risk of running out of drinking water.

The state also recorded its driest winter to date by March, despite recent storms, with an average of 114mm of rainfall, compared to 297mm over the previous winter, NOAA said.

The agency is planning to release its spring outlook climate forecast tomorrow.

NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Their reach goes from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean floor as they work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.