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HMC News – January 2024

Planting has begun in our tree fruit orchards. Last fall after harvest, the trees were pushed out and the ground was prepped for new plantings. Once a field is prepped, we mark the planting locations of the new trees, as well as the irrigation and trellis infrastructure locations. We plant either by hand (shown below) or mechanically with a GPS tractor. After planting, the irrigation hoses are installed, and the trees are soaked in to remove any air pockets around the roots.

The 2023 California Table grape season is coming to a close with a 20% drop in grape volume from what was originally predicted in the early months of 2023. As 2024 progresses, we expect to see a similar overall crop reduction in volume from Peru as well. These two factors along with a historic drought in Panama, which is limiting daily crossings of vessels through the canal, have created a difficult environment for grape supply in the month of January. The northern growing regions of Chile have started stronger than last year but are still in small volume and later than pre-season forecasts had originally indicated. We anticipate the bulk of volume from Chile will not materialize until mid-February.

This month we have accumulated 707 total chill hours for the 2024 tree fruit season. You can see from the chart below that the hours are tracking very similar to the 2021/2022 season. Last year was unseasonably cold, especially through bloom which was worrisome for bee flight during pollination. This year is tracking closer to average, with the total hours already above those needed for our low chill (hour) varieties. We had a substantial amount of rain bringing our total for the 2024 season to 4.39 inches. Seasonal rain totals are calculated by compiling rainfall from July of the previous year to June of the current. Totals for prior years are shown below. The average annual rainfall for the San Joaquin Valley is eleven inches.

 

2024 Early varieties of peaches and nectarines are beginning to bloom, signaling the start of another stone fruit season. We are currently ten days ahead of last year, which is similar to the blossom timing of 2022 and 2021. When the trees are blossoming, we closely monitor the forecast for potential hail or a possible freeze. While these weather phenomenoms can be common in early winter, they are sporadic in the spring and can be detrimental to the fruit, especially during early pivotal growth stages.

 

HMC News December 2023

The California table grape season is slowly coming to a close. We expect to wrap up our California season and transition into Peruvian fruit at the end of this month or first week of January. We will expand our offshore offerings to Chilean grapes as well in early to mid-January.

The recent cold weather has done a good job of starting the dormancy process on our trees and vines. This not only helps our plants receive their much-needed rest after a long season, but it allows our employees to make better pruning decisions. Without the leaves, the pruners can see the entire woody structure and adjust their cuts to leave the appropriate amount of fruiting wood for each tree or vine. We have begun calculating chill hours for our trees for the winter season and will continue to do so until bud break.

We are now pruning all commodities, tree fruit and table grapes. Pruning in the trees will finish before the end of the year. We expect to finish vineyard pruning around the end of January. The rain we have been anticipating may finally come to fruition this month.

It’s the season of giving, and once again HMC Farms employees have chosen to host a tree of hope for the Marjaree Mason Center, Fresno County’s only dedicated provider of domestic violence shelter and support programs. Members of the HMC team picked wish list items from the tree and purchased both Christmas gifts and everyday staples for the residents of Marjaree Mason Center.

 

 

 

 

HMC News – November 2023

A few members of the HMC Farms team recently participated in a panel at West Hills College focused on the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation AgTEC initiative. This initiative focuses on developing a skilled, next generation workforce to support advanced, sustainable food production and manufacturing. As you’ve seen through our Ag tech topics over the summer, we are focused on improving jobs and processes through the use of ag technology and this was a great opportunity to talk about an example of how we’ve made that happen.

As the seasons change, the trees adjust to their new environment. Leaves change, then drop; limbs are pruned to encourage new growth in the Spring, and soil is enriched to replenish any nutrients that were depleted during the summer season.

Around this time toward the end of harvest season and on the cusp of the holiday season, we tend to pause and reflect on things we are thankful for from the past year. Many years we have the same gratitude list: health, family, community, and a safe place to call home. This year, we are adding the extra precipitation that provided us with an abundance of water, although it arrived in an unusual way. Always at the top of our list is the opportunity to do what we love with our family and a team of employees who‘ve become our extended families. Thank you for being part of that every year.

This month was our final table grape harvest for the 2023 California season. Available varieties are Allison for red seedless, and Autumn King for green seedless. We are removing plastic from vines and are lightly irrigating fields since most of the predicted storms subsided as the rainy days approached. We are beginning to prep orchards for the upcoming season by installing trellis systems and preparing the fields for new plantings.

 

HMC News – October 2023

The blood drive was back again this month. Every year we look forward to donation day as individuals at HMC Farms line up at their onsite opportunity to donate blood and save a life. These drives play a crucial role in ensuring a steady supply of blood for medical emergencies, surgeries, and patients battling various illnesses. Beyond the immediate medical benefits, hosting a blood drive fosters a sense of unity and altruism, emphasizing the power of collective goodwill to make a positive difference in the lives of those in need.

Western Growers believes that women are essential to the future of agriculture, which is why they developed WG Women, a program that prepares women for positions of leadership within the fresh produce industry. The initial conception and brainstorming meeting took place at HMC Farms and Sarah McClarty (our CFO) was among one of the first graduates of the program. The program includes media training, political advocacy, mentorship, and much more. Recently Sarah was featured as a panelist at the Women‘s Event and given the opportunity to share her experiences and the benefits of such an uplifting and supportive program.

Harvest continues in our vineyards, and pruning continues in our orchards. This month will more than likely be the last days of 90-degree summer weather we‘ll see until next year. The warm days and cool nights have been ideal conditions for table grape maturity. The dew point and humidity have also been optimal for this time of year with zero foggy days to date. If not for hurricane Hilary, this fall would have been perfect table grape growing conditions for the season. As you can see below, the vineyards remain covered until the completion of harvest. If things continue on the current path, we will be harvesting for weeks to come.

Our grape program at HMC Farms is one of a kind. We are the only vertically integrated company with an entire department dedicated to portioned and washed and ready-to-eat foodservice grapes. Our Lunch Bunch® grapes are the original 2 – 4 ounce portioned clusters of grapes. They are perfect for school lunches, restaurants, garnishes and more. Our Grape Escape® grapes are washed and ready-to-enjoy. They come in an array of pack styles to fit every need, from bulk to individual bags, to small trays, to large bags. If you are looking for ways to expand your grape category, please visit hmcfarms.com/value-added/.

 

 

 

HMC News – September 2023

It was an August we won‘t soon forget. Our hope is for things to settle this month and to have more answers than questions in the near future. We are still evaluating fields and changing plans on a daily basis to do what is best for our tree fruit and table grapes. For now, we will focus on the good. The plum crop faired very well through the storm, and we will have red and black plums available late into the fall.

While the table grape situation continues to shift on a daily basis, we do have some positive news to report from the field. This month we were able to distribute farm worker aid payments provided by the USDA for all farm workers who worked in the field in 2020 and beyond. We are currently providing glucose testing in our orchards, making it easier for individuals to check in on a health issue that may be of concern.

In honor of National Farm Safety this month, we would like to highlight what we do to keep workers as safe as possible in the field. We have field specific safety trainers who regularly train employees on correct harvest and pruning techniques, heat illness prevention, and poisonous insect and animal awareness, to name a few. Each of these topics are broken into specifics, for example, we hold training for ladder safety in orchards that are harvested traditionally and another for platform harvesting. Throughout the summer we organize tailgate topics in the field, where we emphasize specific areas that may be of concern that day. These tailgate topics are increasingly helpful during the hotter days in the summer when heat illness is one of our highest priorities.

We are managing the crop and quality of table grapes out in the field to the best of our abilities. While the cleanup can be tedious, we are encouraged by the end result we see from the vineyard. If everything continues on the current path, we should have grapes into December. Harvest is wrapping up on Krissy, Scarlet Royal, and Timco red seedless and harvest is just getting started on Great Green and Autumn King green seedless. Our early Allison vineyards have been picked and we will get into the bulk of that variety over the coming month. We will continue to watch the weather and do our best to prepare for any future storms.

 

 

 

HMC News – August 2023

As you know, California had a historic amount of rain and snow this winter and spring. The Sierra Nevada mountains in our region recorded 237% of normal snowfall, which is now generating an excess of water that growers can utilize as it melts. Instead of pumping groundwater, we are able to take water directly from the mountain reservoirs via canal systems. Our irrigation districts have also been able to fill their recharge basins to percolate water and recharge groundwater aquifers. Having full reservoirs on is a wonderful thing, and the abundance of last winter’s precipitation will even have a beneficial carry over effect into the 2024 season.

A lot of the time when we mention the weather it is in regard to the heat, but the cool nights can play as much or more of a role in fruit maturity. Studies have shown that overnight lows below 68° F are what actually help to accelerate color and berry ripening in table grapes. With a forecast of cooler nights part of this month, we could potentially start to see the fruit moving closer to normal timing as opposed to the two-to-three-week delay; we’ve been seeing this summer. It usually takes a couple of weeks to really see the full effects of the weather, whether it is hot, cold, or ideal temperatures, so only time will tell.

The tree fruit season has quickly caught up to last year’s timing. Infact, nectarines, white nectarines, and white peaches are going to end earlier than last season. There was a light rain recently in certain spots and it is affecting the fruit in those areas. We had hoped that the timing of grape harvest would move up with the onset of cool nights, but that hope hasn’t come to fruition. Color is the main hold up on our red varieties and unfortunately color up does not have the same effect on grapes as it does on tree fruit.

We had an unexpected storm this month. The issue is not only the amount of rain, it is also how quickly the rain came down. Someplaces in the valley registered over half an inch in 30 minutes. This is unheard of in our area and is uncharted territory for August (which was unlike any this valley had seen in over 85 years); and it is manifesting itself in all the negative ways we predicted. We are getting some clarity of the damage and product lost in both grapes and stone fruit. Pack outs on tree fruit, which is how we measure the number of boxes packed from fruit received from the field, are less than half of what they were before the rain. In some cases, we are choosing to abandon the fields rather than pick, especially nectarines. This month will probably be the end of our rescue attempts on nectarines. We will limp through peaches until we get to the later varieties which begin in late September. In our vineyards we are cleaning the grapes. This process involves clipping out individual berries and bunches that are not suitable to be packed. The packing costs have risen about 20% as a result of all the cleaning required.

We appreciate your patience and understanding during a very difficult time.

 

HMC News – July 2023

Harvest continues in all tree fruit commodities, both organic and conventional. While the fruit may not have known there was a recent holiday this month, we did, and were happy to celebrate with fresh Peach cobbler, a stone fruit salad and a few more of our favorite summer tree fruit recipes (after we finished picking and packing). We hope all who celebrated had a happy and safe Fourth of July filled with fresh fruit and a few fireworks!

This month a heat wave with temperatures peaking at 114 degrees Fahrenheit hit the central valley. This requires earlier and shorter harvest hours for tree fruit, so crews can pick in the morning when it is cool and avoid the exceedingly high heat in the afternoons. The fruit tends to stall at these temperatures, meaning it goes into a state of lower activity, with minimal growth and maturity during peak temperatures. For grapes, the risk of sunburn is still worrisome, especially in later varieties that have not yet completed verasion.

Traditional “sunburn” happens wherever the sun touches the fruit at those high temperatures and is fairly obvious right away. Recently, we started noticing some berries that were protected from the sun and in shade were beginning to shrivel. The good news is we left more fruit on the vine than in previous years, hopefully it will help compensate for the shriveled berries.

With forecasts lingering above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, heat awareness is increasingly important. People are encouraged to take additional water breaks, are reminded of the warning signs for heat illness, and work in a buddy system. This is when we see increased benefits in our ag technology. All picking platforms have built in shade canopies, to provide relief from the heat and the burden of carrying a heavy ladder. Drone or robotic harvesting can be utilized in the future on these exceedingly hot days. Pictured below is an advanced farm harvester that can pick tree fruit in day or night conditions. Click here to see them in action.

Even though it seems like we have been at this for months, we are only halfway through our stone fruit season. It has been a quality eating year and some of the best varieties are yet to come. Fortunately, the heat did little damage to the existing fruit, and we are all looking forward to a slight cool down. This is the perfect time to get in extra stone fruit ads before the season begins to wind down. Grapes are starting slow, much like stone fruit did. In about a week or two we will get into full harvest volumes and are hoping to have ample volume for the entire season. The season harvest dates are remaining later than “normal”, and we are still unsure if that trend will continue for the remainder of harvest.

 

 

 

 

HMC News – June 2023

The highly anticipated harvest of Plumsicle™, is finally ready! Exclusively available at HMC Farms, Plumsicles hold the key to a sweet summer experience. They are renowned for their exquisite flavor and have become an instant favorite people eagerly await throughout the year. Indulge in the excitement by exploring our enticing teaser videos. Simply click on the images below to watch our vibrant new ads. Discover more about this refreshing treat by visiting our website, HMCPlumsicle.com , or follow our Plumsicle journey on Instagram @hmcplumsicle. To learn more, reach out to your HMCFarms sales representative today. Don’t wait too long, as HMC Farms Plumsicles are only available from late June to early August, making them a limited-time indulgence.

 

California Grape Update: Our grapes have experienced optimal weather conditions. Shatter, the way grape bunches are shaped and the spacing of the berries throughout the bunch, is the best we’ve seen in recent years. This is optimal for growth as well as helpful for our springtime tasks like bunch tipping and thinning, which are normally some of the most tedious jobs of the year. Berries are continuing to size up every day. Veraison is just beginning on our very earliest varieties. This is when the berries begin to “soften” and mature. During this process the grapes will slowly start converting acid into sugar. This is also when the red and black varieties will begin to change color. The crop looks great, and we are excited for the season. Initial harvest is still 8 to 12 days behind last year, but as the warm summer weather arrives in the coming weeks those time frames may adjust.

 

Temperatures are unseasonably cool for the Summer Solstice. We almost made it through the entire month of June without a single day over 100 degrees, which is almost unheard of in the San Joaquin Valley. Fortunately, our farm crews and the fruit are loving the cool weather. All varieties have been brixing above average on all commodities. Pictured below is the optical grader and sorter at one of our facilities. Follow our Tech Tuesday updates on Instagram to learn more about the exciting technological advances at HMC Farms.

 

 

 

HMC News – May 2023

The wait is over. Harvest has begun for tree fruit in peaches, white peaches, nectarines, white nectarines, and organic peaches this month. The fruit looks good and is brixing well with great color and flavor for the first of the season. This will only continue to improve with time. With temperatures in the 90’s, the fruit will continue to mature in a timely fashion. Peak season fruit in both flavor and volume is right around the corner. By the week of June 5th, we will have promotable volumes available on all commodities except plums and plumcots. We are also training the juvenile trees and will complete trellis installation soon.

Shoot thinning in the table grapes is complete and grape bloom is finished.  It was one of the most accelerated blooms in recent memory. We are currently waiting for bunches to fully shatter out, which will give us a better idea of the shape of the bunch in the fall. The berries on the lead bunches have already begun to size up. Leafing is wrapping up this month, and we have begun hanging bunches. This is the process of untangling bunches from canes, leaves, or other bunches to ensure they are hanging freely and that the berries have adequate room to grow.

Today HMC Farms is welcoming back Tevel. This will be the second consecutive year in our orchards for the Israeli ag tech company. While here, Tevel will continue to fine tune their flying autonomous robots for mechanical harvesting. Being immersed in harvest and our fields throughout the summer is a key component to fine tuning the software for farm and commodity specific tasks such as detaching the fruit correctly from the limb, variety by variety variations in color and density, specific release protocols, and more. These robots will eventually allow us to optimize our harvest by giving us the ability to pick fruit on afternoons with high heat, at night, or other windows of time that are currently unavailable. Our high-density planting system makes HMC Farms an ideal partner in this endeavor.

 

HMC News – April 2023

The current warm weather forecast is ideal for fostering growth in the fruit’s current stage of development. However, we are currently two weeks behind last year’s progress, which suggests that our anticipated harvest start date will also be delayed by two weeks. At this point, it is difficult to determine the size of the fruit. Despite the uncertainty surrounding future development and field conditions, the warm weather provides a promising start for a healthy harvest. To provide context for the timing difference between this season and last, the image on the left shows the Spring Princess peach at this time last year, while the image on the right depicts our current Spring Princess.

Thinning in our peaches and nectarines is finally underway. Thinning removes excess, under-sized, or damaged fruit from our trees while it is still in its juvenile stage. This ensures that nutrients are directed to fewer pieces of fruit, resulting in better size and flavor. It also protects the tree from damage due to too much weight on the limbs. Our official start date for thinning this year is 12 days later than 2022. Thinning is indicative of harvest timing, so we are still anticipating a start date two weeks later than last year. In fact, the closest year we’ve had to our current projected start date is 2010. Now the only concern is sizing. Warm weather can move the fruit up a few days, but sizing may be affected if that happens. All in all it looks to be a good crop, and we are optimistic for the 2023 season.

Even though it would seem our fears for historic flooding are finally at ease, they are not. Parts of the valley are still flooded, and a majority of the water is coming this summer. This is officially the largest snowpack on record for the Central and Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. The Department of Water Resources electronic readings from 130 snow sensors placed throughout the state indicate the statewide snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 61.1 inches, or 237 percent of average for this date. To put this into perspective, there is enough water in the mountains to completely fill our already full reservoirs anywhere from two to four times this summer.

With temperatures in the 90’s, timing may move up a day or two, but we still predict the crop will be 12 -14 days later than last year. There is an adequate stone fruit crop with some inconsistent sets that vary block by block. The freeze in January did affect some of our early season varieties, but it is very sporadic. The image above shows the difference in the amount of fruit on the top of the tree versus the bottom where the freeze affected the set.

Ag is always in the news for one topic or another. While some tend to focus on the negative, we like to bring to light all of the positive aspects of agriculture. Please click here to listen to a podcast with Hernan Hernandez, the Executive Director of the California Farmworker Foundation. HMC Farms has been a proud supporter of CFF since the beginning, which was developed to provide concrete solutions for many community-wide issues such as housing crises, food insecurity and healthcare. They believe in helping farmworkers become leaders, and empowering individuals to become advocates for themselves and their communities.