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.
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.
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.
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.
This month California was in a drought and a flood at the exact same time. We are ending the year with 40% more precipitation than last year, but unfortunately our state does not have the infrastructure to capture all the water that is rapidly falling upon us. On average, a “normal” rain day in California is 0.25″-0.75″, but these atmospheric river storms are bringing 2″+ of water at a time. While our vineyards and orchards are equipped to handle the weather, many places are not. The reservoirs are currently at half capacity and snowpack is already up to 200% of average, and we still have several months of weather ahead of us. Even though a lot of water will be lost to the ocean rather than being captured, the reservoirs and groundwater will get a much-needed recharge which is a big positive.
Pruning continues in our California vineyards. All acreage is pre-pruned with a machine that removes top half of the last season’s growth mechanically. The final pruning cuts are then made by hand with crews that have been trained to leave the precise amount of wood to ensure the optimal health of the vine and growth for future crops. These cuts form “spurs” (the positions on the vine from which this year’s growth will come) along the “cordons” (the main lateral limbs coming from the trunk). Because grapes are a vine, the growth each year is rapid. A fully
mature vine will be pruned back to essentially the same place every season.
Grape shipments from Peru have resumed at normal levels. Last month’s social unrest created a delay in shipments, which caused tight supply conditions this month. As we move into February, we should see the situation change, with ample supply of both Peruvian and Chilean grapes.
The storms have ended for the time being and bloom is right around the corner. Things here are wet, but the fields need it and the sandier soils in our area are draining nicely. The charts above show that while we received a historic amount of rainfall, a lot of the water was unable to be captured in reservoirs and instead drained into the ocean. In 2014 Proposition 1: The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act, a $7.5 billion bond dedicated $2.7 billion for the public benefits of new water storage projects, was passed. Since then, nothing has been built to improve our water infrastructure. The drought combined with the floods are shedding a new light on the legislative issues that have contributed to our current water crisis.
The conditions this winter have been ideal for growing tree fruit. Our orchards are currently tracking at 963 chill hours for the season. This is a 190-hour increase from this time last season. Chill hours can have different definitions, but we calculate our hours by measuring the time the temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Fruit trees need a specific number of chill hours each winter to regulate their growth. If a tree doesn’t experience enough chill hours in the winter the flower buds might not open at all in spring, or they might open unevenly Fortunately, we have already received plenty of chill hours for the season and any cold weather is appreciated until the buds break and blossoms emerge.
It is no secret that California is in dire need of rain and snow this winter. The current drought from 2020 to 2022 is now the driest three-year period on record, breaking the old record set by the previous drought from 2013 to 2015. At the beginning of this month, we recorded 1.21 inches of rainfall out at our farms which brings our rainfall total for the year to 3.36 inches. Unfortunately, we are still 9.47 inches below the historical yearly average. To ease the need for water in 2023 we will need to receive several inches above our 12.83-inch annual average. Fortunately, rain is in the forecast again and our hope is the storms will continue & replenish our depleted reservoirs.
The recent political turmoil in Peru has created uncertainty in the California to Peru table grape transition. With seven presidents in the past six years, this most recent political crisis has seen highways and airports seized, making the movement of fresh produce from farms to ports impossible in the southern growing region of the country. The situation in Peru’s northern growing region remains normal. A higher-than-normal number of Peruvian grapes have already arrived in the U.S or are in transit. Coupled with ample supplies of California storage fruit, we are optimistic that with careful coordination we will minimize any impacts the situation in Peru has on the transition.
Happy holidays from our family to yours! We hope you have a wonderful time celebrating with family, friends, and loved ones. This winter at HMC Farms, we collected gifts for the Marjaree
Mason Center Tree of Hope. These gifts will be given to families affected by domestic violence in Fresno County. The Center’s goal is to support and empower adults and their children who
have been affected by domestic violence, while striving to prevent and end the cycle of abuse through education and advocacy. Last year, the Center provided services to over 9,600 adults and children including over 89,000 nights of safe housing, 4,800 hotline calls, and 3,900 counseling sessions.
California table grapes are still in full swing, but the import season is swiftly approaching. Shipping flow and port delays have been issues in the past. While we don’t anticipate large volumes of Peruvian grapes to arrive until mid to late December, more Peruvian grapes are headed to the US this year. Some companies have already begun shipments, which is historically earlier than normal. In regards to grape volume, this is the first year Peru is set to eclipse Chile in total table grape production. For California, the California Table Grape Commission has dropped their estimate from 97 million total boxes to 92.5 million. Even though the overall volume has dropped, the remaining volume is higher than previous years. This means we should see no shortage of availability through most of December the same as in previous years.
We are officially into our late season varieties on grapes, Allison and Autumn King. The fruit is looking great and we are continuing to harvest a bit ahead of schedule. Planning is already well underway for next year’s planting. Varieties have been selected, plants have been ordered, the new irrigation systems are being designed, and trellis install is in process.
With the tree fruit season winding to a close, now is the time we focus on replenishing the soil for the season to come. Earlier this year, when flowers and leaves were present, tissue and soil samples were taken from the orchards and vineyards. This gave us a snapshot of the plant nutrients status. Samples were studied so that each block could receive a custom blend of fertilizer to keep it healthy and performing at its peak. Now that harvest is almost complete, we continue to replenish the soil with compost. Compost enriches the soil with carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, while also improving soil pH and the biological properties.
HMC hosted our annual blood drive. Blood donations are in short supply. We found by providing an opportunity to donate on site, many who would not have the time are able to contribute to the ever-present need for donations. It is always exciting to see people come together from every part of the operation and support such a great cause.
HMC Farms recently had the opportunity to attend the IFG Field Day. IFG is one of the prominent table grape breeders based out of California. The field days are designed to provide growers and retailers the opportunity to view and sample new grape varieties. The feedback and dialogue will help shape the future of the grape breeding program. The most exciting part of the Field Day included touring the new Fruitworks facility, their new research and breeding center. The planted experimental vines are grafted on to several different rootstocks which allows us to analyze each vine’s characteristics and help us decide which variety and rootstocks combination will work best in our soils.
Imagine what would happen if your Hawaiian pizza took a trip to Italy… Meet the Spicy Pancetta Grape Pizza. The sweetness of bright, juicy red grapes balance out fiery Calabrian chilies and salty pancetta in this Italian twist on Hawaiian pizza.
A summer storm made its way to the Central Valley this month. An estimated 1/4″ of rain touched down on our farms, which is unprecedented at this time of year. Some stone showed hardly any impact, while other blocks were more significantly impacted. It appears that the rain impacted all commodities to some degree and the varieties that were just ready to be harvested and in the middle of harvest were most severely affected.
Table grape harvest remains ongoing. We’re seeing an impressive crop of green seedless varietals coming out of our vineyards this year. All commodities appear to be ahead of schedule compared to last year’s harvest, ranging from a few days to a couple of weeks.
HMC recently attended the Global Grape Summit with attendees and speakers from six continents (unfortunately no penguins or Antarctic researchers could attend) to discuss viewpoints on the evolution and future of the grape industry. One point of discussion was the impact of the explosion of new varieties, with many different opinions from growers, retailers, and the four major international grape breeders. Harold, as a scheduled speaker, explained that to stone fruit growers, a multitude of varietal options is nothing new. He further explained that many new varieties come with characteristics beneficial to the grower which also provide a better consumer experience. As a business, we not only compete with other grape and stone fruit growers, but also other fruit commodities vying for the shoppers’ dollar. Improved eating characteristics provided by some of the new varieties help inspire consumers to add our products to their shopping baskets.
We are tipping and thinning clusters in our table grape vineyards. During this process, each grape cluster is inspected and clipped to reduce the density of berries and obtain a manageable overall bunch size.
At this point, we are getting into a nice harvest groove. Peach, plum, and nectarine harvest is moving right along in our orchards, with flavor continuing to impress across our early season varieties.
Plumsicle™ harvest has begun! As expected, the crop is sweet and flavorful. Plumsicle is available only in limited supplies this year, but we continue to add more acreage to our Plumsicle orchards each year. For more information on Plumsicle, visit our new dedicated website hmcplumsicle.com.
Last week, some heavy winds and precipitation made their way to our farms. This actually kept us out of the fields for a day, which never happens in the summer. The wind blew quite a bit of fruit off of our trees, and some trees even blew over. After a week of days peaking at over 100°F, the forecast finally shows a little relief as we are expected to drop back into the 90s, and potentially a hair below that for the holiday on Monday. In our table grape vineyards, we’ve seen a little bit of burn on the varieties that haven’t entered veraison yet, but nothing compared to last year. Thankfully, this year’s heat wave came a little later, which meant that there was more canopy coverage in the vineyards to offer shade and protection to berries susceptible to sunburn. Our Sweet Bond and Flame red seedless varieties are gaining color, and Ivory green seedless is in veraison. Berries are still sizing up across our vineyards.