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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
High density planting, shown above, allows our farm crews to prune, thin, and harvest the organized rows with greater efficiency. Now that these trees have grown large enough, we will bring in a platform pruning system to prepare them for winter and the coming season. This new method of farming will ultimately result in an even better quality of product and more efficient system of delivery for the California stone fruit system.
Our weather has finally caught up with the calendar. Since Thanksgiving, we’ve received about 2.59″ of rain, which is more than 20% of our annual average. Sunday, a thunderstorm dropped quite a bit of hail in some spots on our dormant farms. The forecast shows no rain through the weekend, with precipitation popping up again toward the end of next week. We’ve had a some foggy mornings this week, which are likely to continue due to ground moisture.
Traditional pruning is quite labor-intensive, and we are always looking for ways to improve upon the process. This year, we are using a pre-pruner in preparation for pruning our grape vines. The pre-pruner thins out excess growth and performs a basic cut on vines, significantly reducing the amount of time crews need to spend on pruning. This should allow crews to more easily access the vines for targeted pruning, making the overall process more efficient.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, some precipitation finally materialized in our area, allowing us to complete grape harvest just before the rain began. The lack of any early rain this year was highly unusual, but it seems that we’ve gotten back on track. We are removing rain covers in our grape vineyards and pruning in our stone fruit orchards, taking breaks to enjoy “farmer’s holidays” during the welcome rainy weather.
Pruning is in full force in our traditional tree fruit orchards, as pictured above. As you can see, the trees are bare of leaves, allowing our crews to distinguish between older wood and fruiting wood. We will soon begin pruning in our high density planting orchards, which is a slightly different process. Pruning allows us to prepare for the next season by maintaining the shape and structure of the trees.
HMC Farms table grape harvest is rapidly winding down. The weather has continued to cooperate with our harvest, helping to maintain excellent grape quality. It looks like we may finally see some precipitation in the middle of next week. The forecast shows high temperatures in the 60s with some chilly overnight lows to start Thanksgiving week.