Despite sharp contrasts among crops and regions, California’s largest growers expect volumes of summer fruits and vegetables to weather the drought and turn out at levels close to last year.
Of growers who have sufficient water now, most say the impact will become severe in 2015 if the state has one more dry winter.
Growers who have wells and groundwater are drawing on it. Supply is adequate in coastal regions — Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard — where vegetable row crops and berries predominate.
Strawberry production is unaffected by drought, and could hit 8 million trays weekly by Mother’s Day. The California Strawberry Commission is taking every conceivable opportunity to urge retailers to promote.
In the Central Valley, many have wells, but some growers depend on federal or state water allocations that proved nonexistent this year.
Row crops are competing with permanent crops — think nuts or tree fruit — in water district auctions, where the high bid usually comes from the orchards.
Operations with water may divert some to younger or higher-yielding trees.
Table grapes still await an official crop estimate, but some producers expect a modest drop from last season’s record of 117.4 million boxes.
“We would expect in the mid-100s,” said John Pandol, special projects manager for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc.
In Bakersfield, Danny Andrews, owner of Andrews Farms, plans to reduce cantaloupes and honeydew plantings by 50% but keep watermelons at normal levels.
But Firebaugh, Calif.-based Westside Produce remained optimistic for its July 1 start of cantaloupes and honeydew.
“There will be no shortage of Westside cantaloupes this year by any stretch,” said Steve Patricio, president and CEO. “There may not be as many as in the past, but depending on sizing there will be adequate supplies.”
On the Westside, Huron is especially hard hit by the drought. Salinas-based Church Bros. LLC reduced its transitional spring lettuce acreage there by 50%, said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development.
The company could cut even more when the transitional deal returns in the fall. Church Bros. plans to make up for that by extending its Salinas and Yuma, Ariz., deals.
“Sweet corn is an item that retailers are going to have a hard time featuring this summer, because there’s not going to be the large production acreage of corn,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Produce LLC.
“There will be pockets of small local deals up in Sacramento and Brentwood and a small deal out of the Westside, but not enough to feature corn at red-hot pricing,” Torosian said in late March. “Local deals will still be in play, but not the big commercial deals just because water is going to be so tight.”