HMC News – February 2024

The atmospheric river brought much needed rain to the valley this month. We were fortunate to miss the flash flooding and extreme winds that battered the mountains and Southern California. Our new seasonal rain total is 7.11″, up from the 4.39″ from a few weeks ago. While the chill hours are lower than they have been in the last five years, we aren’t worried. The number of hours (733) is adequate, and not concerning. At this point our main concern is a freeze, especially if the temperature dips below 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bloom has started in the early and some mid-season varieties. Bees have been spotted flying through these blossoming trees. We will finish up the last bit of vine pruning and trellis repairs and installation once the fields are dry enough for us to walk through.

Pollination is our current primary interest on the farm. Peaches and Nectarines are self-pollinating, meaning the pollen from the anther in the interior of the blossoms can be deposited on the stigma of that same blossom. Self-pollinating flowers can pollinate adjacent flowers as well. Cross-pollination, which is necessary in plums and plumcots, requires two different varieties of the same commodity to transfer pollen from the anther of one blossom to the stigma of another. Bees are brought into the fields to facilitate this process. For the bees to fly, we need dry weather and temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

The 2023-24 offshore grape season got off to a rocky start, with a short Peru crop both arriving early and ending early. Since the beginning of February, the market has relied on Chile to support demand, when normally we would see an overlap in arrivals from Peru and Chile throughout the entire month of February. The earlier northern Chilean growing region ended early and 10 percent short in volume; and as we transitioned to the south of Chile, the start of harvest was delayed, creating a gap in supply. Now that the harvest in the South has begun in earnest, it is moving quickly; and by the end of the season, we expect to see Chile finish 10 to 20 percent down in volume from last year. We still anticipate good volume in March, but the end of the Chilean season and beginning of the Mexican grape season is still very much in the air in terms of volume and timing.

Our orchards are in full bloom. Pink and while flowers fill the rows of our peach, plum, and nectarine fields. In our early varieties, leaves have grown, and small stone fruits have begun to emerge. As a precaution we have begun netting our early varieties to protect against potential future hailstorms. There is a storm in the forecast at the end of the week that predicted to bring approximately one inch of precipitation. Our winter rain total is on track for a normal season and reservoirs are currently at 75%. We’ve received an adequate number of chill hours, and the bloom has been steady and even. If things continue at this pace, we’re on track for an earlier start date than last year.

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 – January 2023

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.

 

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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.

HMC News – November 2022

The fall rains are upon us. At the beginning of the month, we received over ¾ of an inch, which is substantial for our area. The storm was cold enough for snow in the mountains, and hopefully this is the start of some form of drought relief. Once it dried out, we continued pruning tree fruit orchards and wrapped up harvest on the grapes for the year. Overall, the weather has been nice and cool, which helps the trees enter dormancy and accumulate chill hours. Dormancy is important during pruning because it allows the trees to drop their leaves, giving the pruners a better view of the tree structure and make better cutting decisions. Chill hours are important because it allows the trees to enter their “resting” stage, and a more rested tree is a tree that will wake up happy and ready to go in 2023!

As we learn about and incorporate Ag technology into our farming methods, the goal is not to remove workers or jobs, but rather to improve jobs so that our employees can manage the same amount of work with less physical stress. Ag tech also helps us ensure that we can continue to grow and sell fresh produce as our environmental and political environment continues to shift. In reality, adding technology to our fields will end up saving jobs in the long run by ensuring that we are able to operate for generations to come. Tevel Aerobotics and HMC Farms are working together to create this future.

Click here to learn more.

A huge part of being a family run business is contributing to our community. We live where we work, and coworkers are friends as well as neighbors. Pictured above are one of the many HMC Farms teams, full of family members, coworkers and our community. A life in farming is not simply trees and vines, it is not just what we do, it is who we are, and we are proud to provide for the community whenever possible. We are thankful every day for the opportunity to grow food for our families.

The week before Thanksgiving, HMC employees gathered to volunteer at the Fresno Food Bank. The Fresno Food Bank is an organization that we feel very strongly about. We know both our financial and personal efforts are well directed, as the Food Bank provides crucial support to those that are less fortunate in our community. Each year we donate produce as well as our time. In 2022 HMC Farms donated over 500,000 lbs. to the Central California Food Bank.

HMC News – January 2022

We’re starting the new year with a good amount of precipitation on the books already this winter, and a gorgeous view of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains from our office. September-December of 2021, we received 7.52″ of rain on our farms, compared with only 1.89″ in the same timeframe in 2020. We have already blown past the 7.07″ total for Sept 2020-June 2021, and more rain is likely on the way over the next couple of months. In December alone, we received just over five inches of much needed rain on our farms, which is a big step forward from the 1.45″ of precipitation we measured in December of 2020. We are close to wrapping up pruning in our stone fruit orchards, and pruning more heavily in our table grape vineyards during this break in the rain. The weather has been cold, which is perfect for pruning and for accumulating necessary chill hours for our trees and vines. 

dormant grape vineyard with puddle of water, blue sky with clouds above

With the rain we’ve had this winter comes another weather event: Tule fog. Tule fog is a radiation fog that forms in the Central Valley when the ground is damp and temperatures are low. The fog is so dense that visibility is measured in feet, and when visibility is too low our local schools have a late-start “foggy day schedule” to allow the fog to lighten up a bit before school buses can safely operate. Once we’ve finished pruning our trees, we will go back through our traditional orchards to repair any damaged roping, which helps keep the trees in a vase shape and supports the weight of next season’s crop. We are almost ready to plant new trees in the blocks we prepped over the past few months.

satellite image of California with thick white streak of Tule fog through the middle

January is National Blood Donor Month, and HMC Farms recently hosted an employee blood drive in partnership with Central California Blood Center. Our participants ranged from multiple first time donors to a member of the five gallon club. All of the blood collected at our event will be put to good use in life-saving measures in the Central Valley.

Man with HMC Farms hat looking down - first time blood donor sticker on shirt

We are done pruning trees in our stone fruit orchards, and through the majority of our grapevine pruning. We are finishing up the final touches on new irrigation systems in our prepped blocks, and we will plant new trees once installation is complete. Field activity will slow down over the next couple of weeks as our trees begin to bloom. By mid-February, the Central Valley should be full of orchards covered in pink and white blossoms.

Dormant peach orchard - trees with no leaves or fruit and blue sky

HMC News – January 2020

Welcome to a new decade! Although it’s winter on our farms, there’s still a lot going on…

Recent weather has provided some crucial chill hours to our trees and vines. Chill hours occur when the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F while our trees and vines are dormant. Each variety and type of fruit has different chill hour requirements, which can range from approximately 100-800 hours. We currently have more than 700 chill hours logged on our farms. That’s around 200 hours more than we had at this point last year. January rainfall on our farms is average for the Central Valley. Once the chill hours have been reached and the weather begins to warm, our trees and vines begin to come out of dormancy, signaled by buds and blooms.

 

Weather in California’s Central Valley has its own unique attributes. One of the things that sets us apart is tule fog. No ordinary mist, tule fog is radiation fog, which forms when humidity is high and the ground is cold with little to no wind. This dense ground fog often forms in the days following rain in the Central Valley, causing sections of very low visibility – often 1/4 mile (.4 km) or less. This low visibility leads to “foggy day schedules” at our local schools as school buses and parents wait for visibility to increase for safe driving conditions.

 

The trees in our high density orchards have now grown to a point which opens the door to a new method of tree pruning utilizing a platform instead of ladders. In comparison with ladder use, the platform saves time and increases safety for our field crews by eliminating the need to climb up and down a ladder and then move it a few feet to start the process again. The platform is beneficial for many farming activities in our high density orchards, including pruning, thinning, and harvest. We are excited to see how this new piece of equipment will increase our efficiency throughout the tree fruit cycle this year.