California vegetable growers were coping with record rainfall. ( Babe Farms )

California vegetable growers got relief from several years of intensifying drought conditions this season but were instead trying to cope with record rainfall.

Normal annual precipitation for Oxnard, Calif., is about 14 inches, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc.

By late February, only five months into the rainy season, the area already had received much more than the average amount for the entire year.

"We're into the low 20s for most areas around here already, and we haven't gotten into March and April, which are usually our rainiest months," Widerburg said Feb. 27. "It could potentially be double the normal rainfall."

The company had to curtail harvesting at times because of difficulty getting into and out of the fields, and some product was "heavily saturated."

"We've been dealing with some quality concerns over the last month or so," he said.

The drought appears to be over in the area, "at least for the short term," he said, as lakes and reservoirs fill up again.

The effect of the rain depends on where one's fields are and how the wet weather has affected the ability to get in and plant, said Doug Clausen, vice president of sales for The Nunes Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif.

Despite the record rainfall, Mark McBride, salesman for Coastline Family Farms, Salinas, doesn't think the drought is over.

"We've had several years of below-normal rainfall," he said. "We've really messed with the water tables."

It will take a few more years like the current one to replenish the deep-soil water before California growers can even think about pulling out of the drought situation, he said.

California's drought may not officially be over, "but it certainly feels like it's over," said Mark Adamek, general manager for romaine and mixed leaf production for Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle Inc.

But he said that what is perceived as an unusually wet winter may not be actually be that bad.

Years ago, this would have been considered a normal winter, Adamek said.

"We just forgot what normal feels like."

The rain effects certainly will be felt in the coming months, he said Feb. 27.

"If it stops raining now, there will still be supply issues in late April and May, for sure. There's no way around it."

Bill Colace, co-owner of Five Crowns Marketing, Brawley, Calif., said long term, he was grateful for the rain that was sorely needed in Central and Northern California.

"But in the short term, it does create a few headaches," he said.

For example, he expects a gap in the company's sweet corn deal during the first 15 days of June.

McBride lamented the fact that so much water is running into the ocean rather than being captured for future use.

"If only we could lay our hands on it and retain it and get it down into the sub strata," he said.

Tanimura & Antle is fortunate in that it still has a Central Valley deal, Adamek said.

Many companies eliminated a stop in the Central Valley as part of their transition back to Salinas when water supplies got tight, he said.

"We go to the Central Valley on our way to Salinas because we think, weatherwise, it behooves us," he said.

"We've always gone there," he added. "We stayed with our investment, and it definitely has proved over the years that it's the right thing to do."

The company follows the same procedure in the fall when it transitions to the desert.

Even Yuma, Ariz., felt some effects of the rain, Clausen said. On Feb. 27, the area received up to 1.5 inches.

That's nothing compared to what California received, he said, "but 1.25 or 1.5 inches in the desert is a quite a lot."

In California, he said, growers never get complacent.

Whether it's a wet year or a dry year, he said, "you always keep an eye on the water."

 
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