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.
Congratulations to Harold McClarty. This month he received the prestigious Mentor Award from the California Fresh Fruit Association. This award is bestowed upon individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to the fresh grape, berry and tree fruit communities through their leadership in the industry. Those of you who know Harold know he is an outspoken advocate for California Agriculture. He is not only a leader but also a friend to many, and his exceptional character and contributions make him truly deserving of this honor.
We have received a historic amount of rainfall so far this year. At this exact time last year, we had logged 2.53 inches of rain for all of 2022. We are currently registering double our average annual rainfall and current snowpack is over 230% of normal. Future forecasts are calling for more rain and cooler temperatures than normal. Blossoms are progressing in the trees, and bud break is progressing in the grapes. Once the fruit sets, hail will be our biggest environmental concern.
With our tenth atmospheric river on the horizon and temperatures remaining in the 35 – 60 degree range, we need to look into options to assist natural pollination. Pollination is an essential process for the production of plums. Plums are not self-fertile and need pollen from another tree to produce fruit. When we plant our plum orchards, we will plant or graft two to three compatible varieties within the same block to encourage cross pollination, which in turn produces a healthier and more abundant crop. Bee boxes are brought in to aid in the cross pollination, but during cold winters like this, bees aren’t very active below 55 degrees. To provide an extra boost when we have a variety that is difficult to set or abnormally cold weather, we manually extract pollen from our own plum flowers and apply the pollen with a blower as shown in the picture above.
Bud break is a critical stage in the growth cycle of table grapes. It refers to the point in time when the dormant buds on the grapevine start to open, grow and develop into new shoots. Bud break is triggered by rising temperatures and longer daylight hours. Given the cold, wet weather we’ve been having, bud break is running behind this season. As you can see in the pictures above, the buds are more closed up than the past six years. Although a warm spring can compensate, a delayed bud break is typically indicative of a later start to the season.
We had the opportunity to instruct a group of 530 curious fifth graders about the vital role that technology plays in the field of agriculture. The students enthusiastically engaged with the material and posed insightful questions about farming practices, the role of robots in agriculture, and potential careers in the field. Overall, it was a rewarding experience that highlighted the importance of educating the next generation about the evolving landscape of agriculture.
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.
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.