Cherry growers cope with drought

04/21/2014 01:16:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Tom BurfieldWater from the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District is pumped from this settling reservoir near Arvin, Calif., to irrigate cherries grown by Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers. Growers throughout California are dealing with drought conditions.Most California cherry growers think they’ll come though the 2014 season OK, despite drought conditions throughout the state. But how they’ll fare in future seasons is anybody’s guess.

“I think the drought is having a big impact on everybody in California,” said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the California Cherry Board, Sacramento.

He said it’s hard to predict exactly what the extent of that impact will be.

The state grows cherries from north of Sacramento to south of Bakersfield, he said.

“Water is always a big factor.”

Location could have an effect on water availability, said Jeff Colombini, president of Lodi Farming, Stockton, Calif.

Water should be adequate in the northern part of the state, where growers rely on a combination of groundwater and reservoirs to irrigate their trees, he said.

In the south, however, where growers rely primarily on surface water, “It’s going to be an issue.”

Water quality also could be an issue in certain areas in the southern growing region where salt and/or boron levels are high, he said.

“Cherries are a crop that requires pretty high-quality water,” Colombini said.

Mike Isola, sales and marketing representative for Rivermaid Trading Co., Lodi, Calif., expressed similar concern.

“The biggest effect right now is going to be on the quality of water in the future,” he said, especially with salt content of water in the south.

So far, he said, the drought has not affected the quality of the company’s fruit.

Lack of rain can affect the amount of fog in the San Joaquin Valley, and the resulting lack of humidity can have a negative impact on cherry development, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

“Fog helps cherries develop their buds in the off season,” he said.

There will be water issues in the state, Pepperl said, but he was optimistic about Stemilt’s supply.

“We have a lot of wells, and I think we’re going to be OK with water,” he said.

The biggest difference between this year and other years is that typically there is a lot of water available in storage in the north, Zanobini said. Some of that eventually flows to the south.

This year, “we don’t have a lot of water in storage in the north, and that creates a whole unique set of challenges,” he said.

Zanobini said he’s not sure the state’s water-release program has been conducted with long-term needs in mind.

The formula the state uses to distribute water isn’t easy to grasp, he said.

“It’s very complex.”



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