Heavy rains could cause gaps in California production

It’s a storm that looks to be hitting the entire state. Following a day of evacuation orders and flash flood warnings in parts of California after heavy wind and rain, where is this leaving California agricultural production?

“In California, we never say bad things about the rain. However it is affecting us in a small way,” says Derek Vaughn of Johnston Farms in Edison, California. “We are hoping this rain will help size up the fruit as we have been fighting with small fruit all season long.”

Levon Ganajian agrees. “We need the rain so badly. It can’t rain enough as far as we’re concerned,” says Ganajian of Fresno, California-based Trinity Fruit Sales, which has some 3,400 acres of mandarins. “All this rain has recharged the underground water and decreased the bicarbonates in the soil that makes for a healthier orchard,” says Ganajian.

Ganajian says some fields were muddy and only the outskirts of the orchard could be picked. Photo: Trinity Fruit Sales

Readying for the storm
However, seeing what was coming, growers were preparing for the rain. Vaughn says it was picking heavily for two days during the gap in rainstorms over the weekend.

Ditto Trinity Fruit. “The last clear day we picked five days of fruit in one day,” says Ganajian. “Some fields were muddy and we could only pick on the outskirts of the orchard. You couldn’t go in so that limited production too. We also harvest everything by Brix so while we’re trying to harvest as much as we can, we can’t just clean all the trees out.”

The muddy fields, standing water and rain have all led to gaps in picking. “The Santa Maria Valley has experienced heavy rainfall and strong winds over the last few days, resulting in standing water at multiple locations on our land and limiting access to harvest,” adds Matt Hiltner of Babé Farms, Inc. “We’re working around the affected areas and continuing to fill orders. We’re fortunate to be positioned on well-drained land and expect a quick recovery following the wet weather.”

Strawberry quality challenges
In strawberry production, Mark Shaw, VP of operations for Markon notes that harvest was brought to a halt in Santa Maria, Oxnard, Orange County and Coachella, California on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. “Multiple inches of rain fell on the California Coast (Santa Maria and Oxnard) as well as in Orange County. Quality challenges have been reported, including bruising, pin rot, decreased shelf-life and conditions unsuitable for harvesting crews,” says Shaw.

On the last clear day before the storm, Trinity Fruit picked five days' worth of mandarins in one day. Photo: Trinity Fruit Sales

However back in citrus, Vaughn notes that the weather’s effect on citrus has helped tighten up the California navel market and allowed most who were carrying inventory to clear the floor.

“The challenge is trying to cover our orders with the demand, especially at the start of the year when there’s big demand,” says Ganajian.  

To help keep customers covered, Hiltner notes that particularly over the next few days it’s communicating openly with its customers about any shortages.

Lettuce production spared 
What hasn’t been faced with further issues looks to be the lettuce market following late 2022’s spike in prices and tight supplies. “Storms have not heavily impacted the Arizona/California desert growing districts so harvesting has been proceeding daily as scheduled,” says Shaw.

There will though be the long-term challenge of saturated fields in the Salinas and Santa Maria Valleys preventing growers from entering fields to plant for the April 2023 harvest. “Some growers were able to plant before the rain started falling, but no one has been able to plant for almost two weeks now,” says Shaw. “More rain is forecast for Salinas and Santa Maria through next week. If next week’s rain occurs, harvestable yields will be significantly reduced, creating another demand-exceeds-supply market in April. Depending on the weather over the next two months, April 2023 supply levels could be extremely low or not able to meet demand.”

For more information:
Derek Vaughn
Johnston Farms 

Levon Ganajian
Trinity Fruit

Matt Hiltner
Babé Farms, Inc.

Cathy Gomez
Markon Cooperative

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