The rains delayed strawberry harvest along the Central and Southern Coast, according to the California Farm Bureau, noting that production may be temporarily reduced as growers wait for waterlogged fields to dry and discard rain-damaged berries.
“I know some fields have standing water at various levels,” Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission, said in an e-mail.
Parts of some strawberry fields were under water, said The storms hit some of Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms’ fields, both in Oxnard and Watsonville, said Cindy Jewell, marketing director.
“Our fields in California have spent the last three or four days cleaning up; everything has been stripped or sent for juice,” she said Feb. 23.
The situation was expected to brighten with a spate of “spring-like weather” forecast over the next two weeks, Jewell said.
“There’s tons of bloom, and Santa Maria and Oxnard are getting ready to pop,” Jewell said.
Strawberry production in Watsonville likely will be delayed to the end of March or early April, but that sounds worse than it is, Jewell said.
“Everybody remembers the drought years, when Watsonville would be ready to start (in early March), but in a non-drought year, it’s typically mid-March to the end of March.”
California Giant growers in Florida and Mexico have worked to compensate for any product shortfalls, but there’s a limit to what they can do, Jewell said.
“Technically, they should be done, but they’re staying in production because there’s no California fruit,” she said.
Watsonville’s Beach Street Farms has been forced to delay its harvest, said Charlie Stacka, operations manager, although its fields aren’t under water.
“We’d probably be harvesting this or next week, but right now, it’ s probably going to be put off another two weeks,” he said Feb. 22.
He said some berries grown for the fresh market are being diverted to processing.
The efffects of the rain in citrus groves, which prevents harvest if the ground is too muddy, could have been worse, said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. Orange growers had a bigger-than-normal pre-Christmas harvest, bringing in about 30% of crop before the holiday, compared to a normal 20-25%.
“It has slowed us down significantly, and we’re scrambling to find blocks of fruit in which it’s not too muddy to put heavy equipment in,” Nelsen said. “For the most part, though, we’re just pleased with having the wonderful water supply.”
The excess rain has not created any quality-related issues, Nelsen said.
“Our reports have been real positive,” he said.
The rains won’t affect everything, said Atomic Torosian, partner with Fresno, Calif.-based Crown Jewels Marketing LLC.
“I don’t think the weather is affecting asparagus, but, with strawberries, a lot of times, they have to pick and drop and wait for the next set,” he said.
Rain and muddy fields slowed vegetable harvest in Southern California, but it helped vegetable crops in the Imperial Valley, the farm bureau said.
Vegetable plantings have been delayed in the Salinas Valley, said Samantha Cabaluna, spokeswoman for Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle Inc.
“We’re probably having a similar situation to others in the area,” she said. “We’re certainly experiencing some planting delays and generally delays getting things going.”
That could affect harvest timing in the spring, Cabaluna said.
“There may be some supply gaps, as the desert looks like it’s going to finish early,” she said.
Volumes could be watered down, as well, she said.
“Yields may be off as a result of wet-weather planting and generally (adverse) conditions,” she said.
C&E Farms Inc., Salinas, had to make weather-related adjustments, said Sarah Blacklock, bookkeeper.
“Everything for us is fine, except our planting schedule is being pushed back,” Blacklock said. “Fields are wet, and we can’t disc right now; it has to dry out and be tested.”
To compensate, C&E is transplanting romaine plants instead of planting seed.
“Everything should be on schedule, and there should be no shortfalls in production,” she said.
California’s table grape season is over, but the recent storms have reached vineyards in Mexico, Torosian said.
“Down in Mexico, the grape vineyards are coming along, probably at normal or maybe a couple of days earlier,” he said. “They’ve had a lot of rain in the growing areas between Hermosillo and Culiacan — it seems like once a week they get rain.”
Despite the setbacks in harvest and planting, growers are welcoming the brighter outlook on water availability.
“We’ve been in drought cycle for several years.,” Cabaluna said. “We haven’t seen water like this in quite some time.”
“In the long term, the surge of storms should bring an improved water outlook, but it has definitely brought worries to farmers and ranchers whose land is inundated or whose crops may be at risk,” California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said in a news release.
Wenger noted that many reservoirs have filled and have had to release water, which underlines the need to enhance California’s water storage capacity. The storms hit just as almond trees were blooming, the farm bureau reported, noting that cool, rainy weather inhibits bee activity that’s central to pollination.
The farm bureau also said some almond trees were blown down by strong winds during the weekend, but growers said the tree losses “weren’t as bad as feared” and expressed hope for a successful pollination.
There’s plenty of room for optimism about the almond crop, said Bob Curtis, director of agriculture affairs with the Modesto-based Almond Board of California.
“We’ve got a break and currently we’re going to have a few days of favorable pollination,” Curtis said.
That follows previous “windows of opportunity” for pollination, he said.
Almond orchards on sandy soil are draining well; those in heavier soil still have standing water, Curtis said.
“It will take some time to drain, but bloom is proceeding,” he said.