Scorching heat affects California fruit

07/02/2013 09:30:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Temperatures over 100 degrees hit California’s Central and Coachella valleys in the last weekend of June, putting the brakes on fruit growth and harvest crews.

$imgObj.altTextBut some suppliers of tree fruits, grapes and other crops welcomed a pause after production got off to a fast start. A cooling trend was expected by the Fourth of July weekend.

“There are always going to be issues when you get temperatures of, say, 108 or higher,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Fresno-based Crown Jewels Produce. “The fruit gets into a shutdown mode. Anything that’s exposed and has no leaf coverage is susceptible to sunburn.”

“The trees stop pumping nutrients to the fruit,” said David Stone, partner in Kingsburg-based Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co., referring to peaches, plums and nectarines. “It stops ripening and slows everything down because the tree is just trying to survive. Once it starts cooling, the fruit will start to move. Since we’ve been so early this year with all our varieties, this will be a nice break.”

“You can have a tendency on some of your high-sugar plum varieties to get a little internal burning,” Stone said. “So far we haven’t seen it. Most growers do a good job of keeping water on their fields with the midseason varieties.”

The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning July 1 through the holiday for Central Valley cities as it forecast temperatures above 105 degrees. A similar warning for the Coachella Valley forecast heat up to 112 degrees.

“We haven’t seen a heat wave to this extent this early in July in a few years,” Torosian said July 1.

In Coachella, East West Unlimited LLC had all its grapes in the cooler by the time the heat wave started. Chief executive officer Steve Root said most operations in the area saw little damage and were finishing by the first week of July.

“I don’t think there will be a whole lot of people stuck with anything,” he said.

Mecca-based Richard Bagdasarian Inc. plans to continue with late variety and organic grapes from the desert region.

“We’ve got later varieties that seem to handle the heat even better than the conventional varieties,” said Nick Bozick, president of Richard Bagdasarian Inc. “It’s not the first heat wave we’ve had since we’ve been growing grapes here in the last 60 years. When I was in high school working here, it was 125.”

Eggplant is among the vegetables that could be affected.

“It burns the flowers off the plants when it’s this hot,” Stone said July 1. “When it’s this hot you may have only a few hours to get it pollinated by a bee; when it’s cooler you might have a couple extra hours.”

That gap could appear in about 3 weeks.

“It has an effect on everything you harvest: vegetables, grapes, melons, stone fruit,” Torosian said. “Stuff that’s far out like pomegranates could develop a little sunburn. These hot temperatures are not good for anything.”



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