It was an August we won‘t soon forget. Our hope is for things to settle this month and to have more answers than questions in the near future. We are still evaluating fields and changing plans on a daily basis to do what is best for our tree fruit and table grapes. For now, we will focus on the good. The plum crop faired very well through the storm, and we will have red and black plums available late into the fall.
While the table grape situation continues to shift on a daily basis, we do have some positive news to report from the field. This month we were able to distribute farm worker aid payments provided by the USDA for all farm workers who worked in the field in 2020 and beyond. We are currently providing glucose testing in our orchards, making it easier for individuals to check in on a health issue that may be of concern.
In honor of National Farm Safety this month, we would like to highlight what we do to keep workers as safe as possible in the field. We have field specific safety trainers who regularly train employees on correct harvest and pruning techniques, heat illness prevention, and poisonous insect and animal awareness, to name a few. Each of these topics are broken into specifics, for example, we hold training for ladder safety in orchards that are harvested traditionally and another for platform harvesting. Throughout the summer we organize tailgate topics in the field, where we emphasize specific areas that may be of concern that day. These tailgate topics are increasingly helpful during the hotter days in the summer when heat illness is one of our highest priorities.
We are managing the crop and quality of table grapes out in the field to the best of our abilities. While the cleanup can be tedious, we are encouraged by the end result we see from the vineyard. If everything continues on the current path, we should have grapes into December. Harvest is wrapping up on Krissy, Scarlet Royal, and Timco red seedless and harvest is just getting started on Great Green and Autumn King green seedless. Our early Allison vineyards have been picked and we will get into the bulk of that variety over the coming month. We will continue to watch the weather and do our best to prepare for any future storms.
All of our table grape varieties are in some point of veraison now, which is the stage when red grapes gain color and green grapes shift from grassy green to a creamy green color while the berries begin to soften and ripen. The crop looks good, and we are on the cusp of kicking off harvest season with Flame red seedless grapes. This month we have been keeping an eye on the overnight lows – hot days and cool nights assist the ripening process, but with overnight lows in the mid 70s, the vines sometimes lag behind in ripening.
In the month of July, we dealt with near record heat spikes and prolonged periods of abnormally high temperatures. We’re taking precautions to keep our employees safe, teaching them about heat stress and proper hydration. The heat has limited the hours we can safely operate outside, increasing the importance of proper harvest planning. Growers and shippers that haven’t finished thinning are delayed, with further impacts yet to be known. We haven’t seen excessive heat damage, but there are issues our quality team is watching, such as staining, which may be caused in some part by high heat. We expect minimal damage to our grapes, as many of our grapes have gone through veraison, making them less vulnerable to heat damage. We now have a fuller protective vineyard canopy cover than we did a few weeks ago, when some exposed grapes were burned.
The stone fruit season is about 60% of the way through from a temporal perspective, though just about half of the industry’s volume for the season has now been harvested. There have been many challenges this season, including worker and material shortages and some very hot weather. Luckily though, none of this has translated into poor quality of product in the finished box. It’s been a near-vintage season for quality and flavor, with good visual characteristics. Other than some issues with smaller fruit in the beginning of the season, the finished product has left little to be desired.
You’ve heard us talk about thinning before, but there’s truth to that old saying: a picture’s worth a thousand words. This is why we thin our stone fruit. Fruit that is not thinned (pictured on the right) remains small and doesn’t reach its peak size and flavor potential. Crowded clusters of fruit dilute the nutrients received from the tree, and also block adequate sunlight and air flow. Thinning results in fruit with better size and flavor (pictured on the left), and also protects the tree from damage like broken limbs due to too much weight hanging in one spot.
This year has proven to be one of the most unusual fall weather patterns we’ve seen. The weather has been virtually perfect for grape growth and harvest on our farms, with high temperatures in the 70s and 80s and cool overnight lows. With precipitation continuing to hold off, we will likely complete our grape harvest before adverse weather hits our vineyards.
Wildfires have blazed through parts of California over the past few weeks. Our farms were not in close proximity to any of the fires, but we’ve monitored the air quality closely, as smoke from these fires can drift to the valley floor. Fortunately, the major fires have been fully or mostly contained at this point. For updates on the California wildfires, visit the CalFire website. Table grape harvest is still going strong in our vineyards. The forecast shows slightly warmer days, with high temperatures creeping back up into the low 80s.