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.
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.
A few growers were recently invited to meet with Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to explain our position on California water. Fresno County is the number one agricultural county in the United States. We live in a very unique environment that allows us to feed not only a great part of the nation, but also the world.
Governor Newsom just introduced a plan that will prioritize any and all available water, and agriculture is at the bottom of that list. We are concerned about his knowledge of our needs and nervous that this limited resource continues to be divided by increased demand upon less and less water. It is ironic to have to explain to our elected officials the value of food… something which every hungry country already understands.
McClarty Farms has been very diligent in owning and acquiring property in areas of abundant ground water. We have had the rights to this water for over a century. It is often not about availability, but about ownership. We are nervous that we are being legislated by large populations in coastal cities with no knowledge of how food gets onto their table. Permanent crops must be planted years before they are ready to harvest. Water unknowns today are forcing farmers to make decisions that will impact our food supply five years from now. Our obligation is to educate and inform, making people aware of the growing concern we have for our way of life, our own families, and all agriculture-dependent families. We do not want to see bare grocery store shelves or be dependent on imports for our food security. We as farmers have always been innovative and creative, and we will continue to work to solve these challenges. Using available tools, we do everything we can to manage water as efficiently as possible. “Marginal” water-challenged areas are left fallow, while drip irrigation and new technology allows for better water management, determining the perfect quantity for plant needs.
Our job now is to make people understand that we need to share the most important commodity in California… water.
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).
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.
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 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!
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.