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HMC News – March 2021

This month, HMC Farms held a two day COVID-19 vaccination clinic for employees of HMC and several nearby ag businesses. At this point, we have successfully distributed vaccines to more than 450 agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley, in partnership with the California Farmworker Foundation and Heart of Ag (the free-to-employee clinic we sponsor) – both relationships built before the pandemic. Sarah McClarty, Chief Financial Officer at HMC stated at the event, “To watch every employee in our organization who wants a vaccine receive one over the last two days has been the biggest win in what has been an extremely challenging twelve months.”

People waiting in line at vaccination clinic

Research and development are crucial to our success as a farming business. We are constantly looking for ways to improve our farming methods by studying a wide variety of topics. One of our Plumsicle™ orchards is pictured above. This is one example of the results of years of research and development to improve the maintenance and growing processes, while planning ahead for the use of future ag technologies. While we often show you these trees during harvest time, the blossom stage gives a clear view of the high density setup.

Blooming plum trees in high density planting block - trees are planted close together and supported by a trellis

This month, we’ve had both rain and hail in the Central Valley. Hail can pose a significant threat to our crops if it occurs at the wrong time. Right now, our stone fruit is in three different stages: blossoms, developing fruit with the jacket (base of the blossom) still attached, and juvenile fruit outside of the jacket. Blossoms essentially have no vulnerability to the hail we’ve had – even if we lose some blossoms, that can be chalked up to thinning. The developing fruit with the jacket still attached still has some protection against the elements. The most vulnerable of these stages is the juvenile fruit that has just shed its jacket, and the growth process moving forward. About 20% or less of our crop is in the post-jacket stage at this point, and we will evaluate any hail damage in the coming days.

Orchard of fruit trees with pink blossoms, water puddle from rain in the foreground

Bud break is happening in our early season table grape vineyards. This means that tiny buds on the vine have begun to swell up and give way to leaves using energy stored up during dormancy over the winter. Pictured above is a Flame red seedless table grape vineyard, our first variety to harvest. We generally compare the timing of the growth cycle with previous years, but bud break itself is not a solid benchmark for harvest time because the weather after it occurs has a significant impact on timing for the rest of the growth cycle. While bud break began about the same time as last year, the cooler weather over the past couple of weeks has slowed down growth across our vineyards.

Pruned grape vineyard with green leaves beginning to open up from dormant vines

We are now thinning our early season stone fruit varietals. During the thinning process, we remove excess immature fruit, leaving behind only about 2-4 pieces per hanger (shoots from permanent tree branches which bear fruit). This time consuming job is labor intensive, and can only be done by hand. The amount of fruit we leave behind varies based on the specific variety. Thinning will continue for months as our mid and late season varietals reach the appropriate point in the growth process.

Three photos: one of a peach tree branch with clusters of baby fruit before thinning, another of lots of baby fruit on the ground from thinning, and the third with a peach tree branch after thinning with only one or two pieces of fruit left

HMC Farms COVID-19 Vaccinations Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

HMC Farms Delivers COVID-19 Vaccinations to Agriculture Workers 

 

Kingsburg, California – HMC Farms is excited to announce the successful distribution of 450 COVID-19 vaccines to agricultural employees in California’s Central Valley. 

 

HMC Farms recently hosted vaccination clinics which distributed hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines to employees of HMC and several nearby businesses in the ag industry. More vaccinations are on the way as the first recipients near the second dose time frame.

HMC Farms is a family owned and operated business, and the McClarty family values their employees as an extension of that family. Sarah McClarty, Chief Financial Officer of HMC Farms, stated at the event, “To watch every employee in our organization who wants a vaccine receive one over the last two days has been the biggest win in what has been an extremely challenging twelve months. Partnerships with the California Farmworker Foundation and Elite Medical that were in place prior to the pandemic have played a huge part in HMC’s continued efforts to support our employees’ health and well-being, and are what made this week’s event possible.”

At the vaccination event, it was clear to see that people were relieved to have vaccines available to them. Several employees were seen having their photos taken while receiving the vaccine to share with friends and family. “This is such a relief,” said one employee as she received her shot. Another employee commented, “The distribution process for vaccines has been confusing. It’s so helpful that HMC was willing and able to bring vaccinations directly to us.” 

 

The past year has been difficult for people and industries around the globe, and the ag industry has felt the weight of keeping employees safe and healthy while maintaining the food supply. Speaking about the partnership with the California Farmworker Foundation which helped make the vaccination even possible, Harold McClarty, owner and Chief Executive Officer of HMC Farms, expressed gratitude. “We have all struggled during these very difficult times,” said McClarty. “We are very grateful and supportive of all the work that this organization has done for farmworkers. It gives us some hope that we will persevere and continue to move forward with our work to support the nation’s food supply.”

 

HMC Farms is located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, and has been family owned and operated since 1887. All of their produce is grown sustainably, protecting the land, water, and people who make it possible to deliver delicious peaches, plums, nectarines, and table grapes year after year. To learn more, visit https://www.hmcfarms.com/  

 

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HMC News – February 2021

We received a total of 3.39″ of precipitation in the month of January. Compared with the past two years, this January had significantly more precipitation. January 2019 had a total of 2.83″ of rain, and January 2020 saw just 0.77″ in the entire month. We hope that this is a good sign for this year’s annual rain total in the Central Valley.

Winter trees with flooding in the foreground

HMC Farms had the honor of partnering with the California Farmworker Foundation to begin to provide COVID shots to our farmworkers this month. Speaking about the event, Harold McClarty commented, “We have all struggled during these very difficult times. We are very grateful and supportive of all the work this organization has done for farmworkers. It gives us some hope that we will persevere and continue to move forward with our work to support the nation’s food supply.”

Man gets vaccine shot in arm

Blossoms are opening up in our stone fruit orchards and along the rest of the famous Fresno County Blossom Trail. This is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the Central Valley, drawing people from near and far to drive or bike along the trail and take in the beautiful pink and white blossoms filling orchards for miles. For more information on the Fresno County Blossom Trail, visit their website here.

Tops of plum trees with white blossoms, mountains in the background

We are grafting in some of our stone fruit orchards. If you’ve ever driven past an orchard that looked like a bunch of stumps with only one limb, chances are you’ve seen grafting in progress. Grafting is the process of adding a new variety to existing rootstock. This allows us to harvest the new variety in a shorter timeframe by utilizing the rootstock that’s already in the ground instead of starting from scratch with completely new trees. Look closely at the photo above and you will see what appear to be sticks coming out of the cut portion of the tree. Those sticks are actually called scion wood, and are the June Time peach variety that will soon grow in this orchard. The remaining limb, called the nurse limb, is left on the tree to help keep it alive until the grafted scions are growing well, and it will eventually be removed.

Orchard with fruit trees going through graftin process - stumps with one branch with pink blossoms

Free Downloadable Valentines!

Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Why not celebrate with your favorite grapes? Find a free download of these valentines by clicking on the image below. You can print these out to hand out, or crop and send digitally for a socially distanced Valentine’s Day!

6 valentines featuring grape characters with phrases like "I think you're grape" and "Thanks for being a grape friend"

HMC News – January 2021

Man pruning dormant fruit trees with a pole pruner

Our crews have begun pruning our high density trees, and we are continuing to realize the benefits of our new orchard design. The new design allows our employees to prune the trees without using ladders, which greatly increases worker safety and efficiency. To reach the higher areas of the tree, a pole is attached to electric pruning shears, allowing employees to make the proper cuts with the simple push of a button.

Shovel with dirt and sprouted baby plants from cover crop seeds

We are in the midst of planting cover crops in our orchards and vineyards. Cover crops are planted beneath the trees and vines for the benefit of the soil, not for harvest. Below ground, fibrous roots from the cover crop feed beneficial soil microbes. Once the cover crop is decimated those roots decompose, creating channels for better water infiltration. Above ground, the cut cover crop breaks down to create organic matter, putting carbon back into the soil, feeding beneficial soil microbes, and assisting with light textured soils like ours. We do not use any irrigation for cover crops, so we have to wait long enough for rain to create moisture in the ground, but plant early enough to ensure that rains will persist to help them grow. Learn more about this topic on our YouTube channel!

Flooding near an orchard

Rain has descended upon our farms, with precipitation estimates reaching beyond 2″ in one day alone. For reference, the total precipitation recorded in Fresno in 2020 was just over 6″ and the average rainfall per year in the Central Valley is around 11″. While today is expected to provide the peak of this week’s rainfall, We expect rain through at least the end of the week, with more to start next week.

HMC News – November 2020

High density stone fruit orchard - half pruned, half not pruned

We are pruning trees in our stone fruit orchards to prepare them for winter. Pruning allows us to shape the trees in order to prepare for next year’s new growth and harvest. Pictured above, the left side of this high density stone fruit block is pruned and the right side hasn’t been pruned yet.

Farm equipment leveling land

Block prep is happening on our farms. Before new plantings, we perform multiple steps to prepare the land. Pictured above, a large machine called a ripper is digging 5+ feet into the ground with a long shank to break up any hard or compacted streaks in the soil, which provides a better environment for roots to grow.

McClarty family standing in vineyard with rain covers

This is the time of year for reflection and giving thanks. Despite many challenges this year, we still have much to be thankful for. Those challenges gave us the opportunity to adapt and grow, and we successfully made it through an unprecedented summer. While Thanksgiving may look different this year for many of us, we hope that you can spend some quality time with your loved ones – whether in person or virtually.

HMC News – October 2020

Farmer examining grapes in a vineyard

The grape industry is approximately 50% shipped through the industry estimate of 106,500,000 boxes, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see the industry come up short of that number due to the peculiar growing conditions this season. HMC is not quite that far through the season. We are looking forward to our Allison red seedless harvest, which is our biggest volume variety of the season. Red grapes should be available through December, but it is expected that the industry will run short of green grapes before then.

Piles of compost being scooped up and added to a distributing trailer

Each year after harvest is complete, we replenish nutrients in the soil of our orchards and vineyards. We take soil samples to determine which nutrients need replenishment and then select from different compost options based on their nutritive values. This year, our post-harvest organic orchards need more nitrogen and our post-harvest conventional orchards need more phosphorus and calcium, so we selected two different compost options to meet each of these needs.

Red grapes on the vine

Our Allison red seedless table grapes are finally in harvest! As we shared a few weeks ago, the smoke from California wildfires slowed the maturity of our late season table grapes. That pushed back the harvest window significantly for one of our favorite varieties. Contact your HMC Farms representative for more information on availability and pack styles.

Self-driving cart carrying grape bins through vineyard

As we look into ways to make table grape harvest more efficient, we are testing out a self-driving cart called Burro. Our employees can harvest grapes and place them onto trays that the Burro drives out to the end of the row for them, eliminating the need to push a heavy cart full of grapes to the end of the row. Not only does this make grape harvest less strenuous on our employees, but it makes the time spent on harvest more efficient by eliminating time spent pushing the carts back and forth in the vineyards. Tune in to this week’s Farm Friday on our Instagram page for more details.

HMC News – September 2020

Holiday plums from HMC Farms piled up on each other with the PLU sticker showing

The Holidays are here! Holiday plum harvest will begin soon. This proprietary plum variety is one of our favorites, and we wait for it all season. This late season plum features a speckled red and green exterior, and a variety-specific PLU sticker. Ask your HMC Farms® salesperson for more details.

Red grapes on the vine

Just as with stone fruit, this is proving to be a great year for grape quality. Grapes were a little slower to start than normal and have been a bit more difficult to pick than in years past because of some delayed maturity, but the finished product looks, and more importantly tastes, great. With new varieties pushing the overall volume later in the season, September is now the heart of the table grape harvest. While grapes will be great for ads for all of fall (and even into early winter), September is the perfect time to set the stage for a great autumn grape season.

grape vineyard at HMC Farms with smoky sky

As smoke and ash persist in the Central Valley from nearby wildfires, the impact is noticeable in our table grape vineyards. The smoky skies have acted as a giant shade net over the Central Valley. This results in much lower solar activity, and has led to reduced water needs and slower berry maturation. The overall flavor and brix are not impacted once the berries reach maturity, but it’s taking longer to reach that point.

Old trees being pushed down at HMC Farms to make way for new planting

It’s time to start thinking about new plantings on our farms. In the locations where new trees will be planted, we are removing old trees as the first step in preparing the blocks for new planting. Traditional stone fruit blocks, like the one pictured, will be converted to high density planting. When we choose trees or vines to plant, we consider many factors from flavor to harvest timing. Our goal is to create a consistent flow of the best tasting fruit throughout the stone fruit and table grape seasons. Another thing we consider with harvest timing is workload. Keeping the workload fairly steady allows us to staff our teams properly and avoid labor shortages.

Red grape vineyard

Our mid season table grape harvest is starting to wrap up. We are beginning to scratch around a little in our late season table grape varieties that were delayed by the wildfire smoke that blanketed the Central Valley for weeks. We should be in full harvest for those varieties soon.

HMC News – August 2020

Grape vineyard with smoky sky from wildfires in California

Smoke from the multiple wildfires around California settled in the Central Valley this month. We are carefully monitoring the air quality to ensure that our employees working outdoors remain safe, and are deploying additional safety measures as needed.

Two white peaches on the tree. Snow Princess white peach from HMC Farms.

We’re in the final stretch of the stone fruit season. Though we are closer to the end of the season than the beginning, there is still a lot of good fruit in our lineup over the coming weeks. We are about 80% through peach and nectarine harvest, and about 70% through plum harvest.

News article describing the record-breaking heat in California's Central Valley - reaching 112 one day

It’s hot! Record temperatures this month challenged our crops and people. It’s always hot in the Central Valley in August, but these extreme temperatures require us to take precautionary steps to ensure the quality of our product and the safety of our people. We applied a protective reflecting spray to the tree fruit, while constantly regulating moisture in the ground. We also stopped all field operations at noon when temperatures were too high. While this a big hardship on our time sensitive commodities, the health and welfare of our employees is our top priority. It has been an unusual summer, and this is just one more challenge we’ve dealt with.

Two types of plums with a brix meter showing 20.1 on the screen.

We continue to enjoy many of the newer plum varieties that were planted recently. When picked tree ripe, with a bit of give, we have seen sugar levels much higher than traditional plums of the past.

HMC News – July 2020

McClarty family from HMC Farms walking through orchard

The Fourth of July not only celebrates the independence of our country, but it also marks the “spiritual” half way mark of the stone fruit season, and is the historically referenced start date for grape harvest in our area. The first six weeks of the season definitely require the most effort. We are generally still thinning through early June while picking the most temperamental and time sensitive varieties of the season. The Fourth of July is a point in time at which we reflect, look forward, and take a quick break with our families. We hope you had a moment to relax and celebrate over the holiday (hopefully with a peach in hand).

Table grape cane cutting equipment in a vineyard at HMC Farms

This month, we used Cane Cutters in our table grape vineyards. This equipment cuts excess growth in the centers of the rows with blades that form an upside down V shape in order to increase sunlight and air flow. Increased sunlight helps our red and black seedless grape varieties gain color, and extra air flow helps to prevent disease pressure in grape clusters and vines.

Crews harvesting table grapes at HMC farms using umbrellas

HMC Farms table grape harvest is now underway in our vineyards, kicking off our table grape season! Overnight lows have remained under 70°F, which is great for color development in our red and black seedless table grape varieties. 

HMC Farms table grape vineyard drip irrigation line and soil moisture

HMC Farms regularly monitors soil moisture to ensure that we are providing the proper amount of irrigation to our trees and vines. We combine several sources of information from physical examination to sensors, and even the weather forecast, to determine the proper frequency and duration of irrigation. This topic was featured in our Farm Friday Instagram story, a weekly behind the scenes look at what’s happening at HMC Farms. Find us on Instagram here, and follow along with our Farm Fridays!

Boy bites into a freshly picked peach in an orchard at HMC Farms

It’s been a vintage year so far for California stone fruit. We have received more than normal complimentary letters about the great tasting stone fruit. Newer varieties and a discipline to only pick the most mature fruit has put these summertime favorites back on top. We are half way through the season and should have good eating well into September.