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.
April’s weather has been a rollercoaster, bouncing around 20 degrees up and down over a few days more than once. Thankfully, the forecast ahead shows weather conducive to stone fruit growth.
We are thinning stone fruit in our stone fruit orchards. Thinning removes excess, under-sized, or damaged juvenile fruit from our trees. 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. Hail damage is prevalent across the industry in scattered pockets. We’ve discovered hail damaged stone fruit on a couple of our ranches, as well as some damage to the vines in one location where the hail was most prevalent. We’ve been able to remove some of the damaged fruit in the thinning process, but there is a limit to how much that can help.
In our table grape vineyards, the crop looks very healthy. The vines are all pushing strongly and evenly, and we seem to be running a little earlier than last year at this point. Shoots continue to develop, and clusters are forming on the early season varietals in our table grape vineyards. Soon, the clusters will begin to bloom and then set fruit.
Early season varieties are beginning to show some blush. Pictured above is our Krista yellow peach variety, which is now larger than a golf ball. Thinning continues in our mid and late-season varieties, and we’ve begun training young plum trees.
Stone fruit continues to develop in our orchards as we approach harvest. Pictured above is our Zee Fire yellow nectarine variety, which is about a week behind the Krista yellow peach. After weathering last week’s storm, we are eager for the stone fruit season to begin.
In the beginning of this month we continued to prepare for new planting in our orchards. Once the old trees are pushed out, they go into an industrial wood chipper. The ground wood is then incorporated back into the soil on our farms. Through this process, we are doing our part to capture carbon in the atmosphere and fix it in the soil. Chipping the wood also eliminates the need to burn old trees, which can have a negative impact on the air quality in the Central Valley. The next step will be to go in and break up the compacted soil (a process we call ripping) and level out the ground.
We are slowly coming to end of table grape harvest with less than 10% of our grapes left to harvest. We are clipping and cleaning bunches during packing more than we had expected in order to remove sunburned berries from the summer heat waves and grapes impacted by October rain. The finished quality of grapes in the box still looks excellent, but additional effort is required to get it that way. Our final production numbers are expected to be a bit less than our pre-harvest estimates as we slowly wrap up.
At the end of this month we found ourselves almost fully prepped to plant new trees in our stone fruit orchards. The next steps toward planting are marking the planting rows and installing the underground irrigation system. After those final tasks are complete, we just need to wait for the nursery to deliver our trees, and we can begin planting in January.
We are pushing out trees and prepping blocks for new planting in some of our orchards. Once the trees are removed and the compacted ground is broken up and prepped, we will be ready to plant new trees in about three to four months. The varieties we’ve chosen for new planting are the result of a good amount of research and planning, and we are confident that they will make a great addition to our stone fruit lineup.
Late season table grape harvest is thriving with the current weather conditions on our farms. The cool overnight low temperatures are ideal for berry color and maturation, as well as pleasant harvest weather for our employees, helping move us toward the end of the harvest season. The quality, timing, and flavor of grapes coming out of our vineyards are all holding strong.
Students from Reedley College recently visited our farms as part of a two semester course titled Fundamentals of Fresh Fruit. This class was privately funded by HMC Farms and other local stone fruit growers, and we’ve taken the lead on the course design. This semester, the focus is exposing students to all areas of our industry. Drew and other members of our farm management team gave students an introductory crash course on trees and vines. We covered everything from prepping fields to selecting varieties, and the concept behind our high density orchards. The goal of this course is to educate local students on everything ag has to offer in order to help attract and cultivate future generations of ag professionals in the Central Valley.
Last week, a group of HMC Farms employees volunteered at the Central California Food Bank. It was our first in-person group service event since the pandemic paused our extracurricular activities. We got to work on the food bank’s pack line, testing our quality control and packing skills on a new commodity; our team packed over 2,600 lbs of peppers! We greatly appreciate the work that food banks do to ensure people don’t go hungry, and are always thankful for any opportunity we have to support their efforts beyond our regular fruit and monetary donations.
While we are in the final third of the season on peaches and nectarines, we are just rounding second base on the plum season. We are looking forward to some of the highest sugar varieties of the year, including Black Majesty, Red Yummy, and of course our exclusive HMC Holiday plum. Holiday red plums will begin harvest in early September, and will pack and ship into October.
Burro self-driving carts are currently running in our table grape vineyards. After experimenting with Burros for the past couple of years, this is our first time using them for a full harvest season. Burros reduce physical stress on our hard working employees, and make the harvest process up to 40% more efficient by allowing our crews to focus on harvesting instead of pushing carts up and down the vineyard rows. Click to watch a Burro working in a vineyard right outside our office!
Grape harvest is underway in our vineyards in California’s San Joaquin Valley just in time for the kickoff of the 2021-2022 school year. HMC Farms has value-added solutions that make it possible to provide students with the fresh grapes they love. Kids choose grapes more often than other fresh fruit items, which means less plate waste and a higher take rate when grapes are on the menu. Value-added grape packs from HMC Farms make yield and portion control easy, offer significant labor savings, and are a perfect fit for virtually any serving application.
Color development is coming along well in our table grape vineyards. We are going full bore harvesting the mid season red and green seedless varieties. We’ve experienced moderate temperatures on our farms lately, which is perfect for grape development and harvest.