Harvest season is finally here! Peach and nectarine harvest is underway as stone fruit continues to mature and grow in our orchards. Pictured below is our Sangria plum, which will begin harvest at the end of May. Thinning has now wrapped up in our stone fruit orchards. The warm and sunny spring we’re having is perfect for growing great tasting fruit with high sugar content. We have seenexcellent eating quality right out of the gate.
So far fruit looks and tastes as good or better than last year’s vintage crop, and we hope that will continue for the whole season. HMC is expecting similar total volume as last year, with a bit more acreage making up for yields that are expected to be slightly less than last summer. We also expect the industry’s total volume to be down about 10% or so, due to acreage reduction, hail, and frost.Overall sizing seems to be running a bit smaller than last year, and 30 degree swings in this month’s weather created a bit of harvest inconsistency. The eating experience remains excellent with brix higher than the previous season’s average.
We are installing trellis structures in the new planting blocks, and beginning to train juvenile trees into the 2D wall structure. Grape bloom is done in our vineyards, and bunches are shattering out and entering the “berry set” stage. During shattering, unwanted berries fall off the bunch. The remaining berries are then set, and will begin the maturation process as we inch toward the 2022 grape harvest.
Take a look at the before and after of a grape cluster going through bloom shatter. During bloom, excessive flowers fall off of the stem, leaving more space for the berries to grow and develop. During this stage and up to berry softening, the berries are more susceptible to sunburn. With some hotter temperatures in the weeks ahead, we will continue to monitor the crop.
This month, Reedley College held the official groundbreaking ceremony for the McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The new 24,000 square foot facility will attract talent and draw audiences from near and far. It will also provide students and faculty the much needed opportunity to showcase their talents and skills on campus. Harold gave a remarkable speech about his own life and impactthe college and the arts had on his upbringing.Click here to see what he had to say.
It got cold at the beginning of the month. There was a widespread freeze, but only various colder locations suffered any significant damage. As you can see in the picture below, the juvenile nectarines on the left are green and shiny, compared to the frost damaged nectarines on the right that are dark and dull looking. While we feel that the overall volume was not affected by the freeze, March-April is a worrisome time for us as we monitor for potential cold temperatures and hail events.
As grape vines awaken from dormancy, buds begin to form and swell until they open up and reveal green leaves and new growth. The opening of these buds is called bud break, a process that is currently happening in our table grape vineyards.
Sarah McClarty, our Chief Financial Officer, is featured in this month’s Western Grower & Shipper magazine as a WG Women Ambassador. Sarah is part of the first few graduates of WG Women, a women’s professional development program under the Western Growers umbrella. Before WG Women, Sarah worked to create a women’s group at HMC, which allows the women from across our organization to participate in networking, teambuilding, and volunteer opportunities. Because we are in the midst of Women’s History Month, this feature is extra special to us. Read the article here.
Our stone fruit orchards are moving right along. Juvenile fruit is growing on our trees, with nectarines pictured above. At the beginning of this week, we received just over an inch of precipitation on our farms, which included some hail. It’s a little early to determine the extent of the hail damage. We have not yet thinned our early season varietals, which sometimes gives us an opportunity to sort through the fruit on the trees and remove pieces that may have been damaged by hail.
Earlier this month, we began shoot thinning in our table grape vineyards. A shoot is fresh new growth that comes out of the grapevines in spring. As shoots develop, we identify the new growth that has the best size and position. At that point, we remove any excess growth from the vine. This helps keep the vine formed properly on the V-trellis and within the rows, and is our first step in selecting the best bunches for the coming table grape season.
What does it take to become USDA certified organic? Before we can apply for the organic certification, we must farm the ranch completely organically for three years. After the three year mark, we must complete a ranch inspection and a review of field input documentation before the ranch can officially receive organic certification. Each spring, we go through the same inspection and document review process in order to get our organic certification renewed. We went through this process a few weeks ago, so our certification is already renewed for the 2021 season.
Our stone fruit is growing well across our orchards, with sizing and development moving forward right on schedule. These peaches are in the driveway leading up to our office, and right now they are about the size of a ping pong ball. The warm weather lately has helped with this development, but we do have some cooler days ahead. As always, we will closely monitor any adverse weather and keep an eye on how the drop in temperatures may impact harvest timing.
With a chance of hail in the forecast over the last weekend of April, we had to protect our developing Plumsicles™ (and our other plum & plumcot varieties). We covered the trees with repurposed citrus netting, purchased at a discount from our neighbors. Citrus farmers use these nets to keep bees away from their blossoms, but once they’ve got a few holes they are no longer useful for that purpose. We are able to use the nets in our orchards to protect the fruit from hail, even if there are a few holes here and there. We save a little on the purchase of the nets, the citrus farmers reclaim some of their investment, and we all reduce waste by reusing something that would otherwise be discarded!
We received a total of 3.39″ of precipitation in the month of January. Compared with the past two years, this January had significantly more precipitation. January 2019 had a total of 2.83″ of rain, and January 2020 saw just 0.77″ in the entire month. We hope that this is a good sign for this year’s annual rain total in the Central Valley.
HMC Farms had the honor of partnering with the California Farmworker Foundation to begin to provide COVID shots to our farmworkers this month. Speaking about the event, Harold McClarty commented, “We have all struggled during these very difficult times. We are very grateful and supportive of all the work this organization has done for farmworkers. It gives us some hope that we will persevere and continue to move forward with our work to support the nation’s food supply.”
Blossoms are opening up in our stone fruit orchards and along the rest of the famous Fresno County Blossom Trail. This is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in the Central Valley, drawing people from near and far to drive or bike along the trail and take in the beautiful pink and white blossoms filling orchards for miles. For more information on the Fresno County Blossom Trail, visit their website here.
We are grafting in some of our stone fruit orchards. If you’ve ever driven past an orchard that looked like a bunch of stumps with only one limb, chances are you’ve seen grafting in progress. Grafting is the process of adding a new variety to existing rootstock. This allows us to harvest the new variety in a shorter timeframe by utilizing the rootstock that’s already in the ground instead of starting from scratch with completely new trees. Look closely at the photo above and you will see what appear to be sticks coming out of the cut portion of the tree. Those sticks are actually called scion wood, and are the June Time peach variety that will soon grow in this orchard. The remaining limb, called the nurse limb, is left on the tree to help keep it alive until the grafted scions are growing well, and it will eventually be removed.
Plum trees are not self-pollinating like peach and nectarine trees, so they require pollination from other plum varieties in order to produce fruit. To give our plums the best chance of pollination, we plant blocks of cross-pollinating varieties adjacent to each other on large ranches. It is important to choose varieties which bloom at the same time to ensure that bees can do their work, moving pollen from the blossoms of one variety to another. when the bloom timing of the varieties is off, or when the weather is too cold for bees to fly (below 55°F), the result is a short plum crop. As pictured, we have lots of uniform bloom this year, which is hopefully a good sign for a full plum harvest.
Our dormant grape vineyards recently received a layer of compost to help feed soil microbes and replenish depleted nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil. Using compost allows us to maintain soil health using organic forms of nutrients, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer. To ensure the compost we use is safe to apply, it is put into rows, brought to an appropriate temperature, and turned multiple times to ensure any pathogens are cooked out. The timing of compost application depends on the weather – we wait until late winter has passed so that heavy rains don’t wash minerals past the root zone and the temperature is warm enough for soil microbes to be active.
We are taking as many precautions as possible to ensure a continued supply of nutritious produce during these unprecedented times. We are staggering break and meal periods in our facilities to minimize the number of people in a given area at one time, we have changed configurations in our processing facility to maximize social distancing, and we are continuing to follow our already extremely high standards for hygiene and food safety. We are also fogging common areas with disinfectant during off hours and have procured additional laptops to allow some employees to work from home as necessary. We are planning for the upcoming stone fruit season, with thinning starting. So far there looks to be a heavy crop load, which will require extensive and timely thinning of our crop. We are watching the skies closely as there is rain in the forecast, and we have approached the time of spring in which precipitation that turns into hail can be incredibly devastating.
Several members of our team from sales, production, and quality control recently visited our HMC Farms office in Chile. The group was also able to visit vineyards and packing facilities in multiple growing regions throughout the country. The key takeaway from the trip was an enhanced understanding of the scale and complexity of farming operations in Chile, as well as the unique challenges regarding production coordination, farming practices, and logistics.
The Fresno County Blossom Trail is one of the main early-spring attractions of California’s Central Valley. Each year from late February through mid-March, delicate blossoms from peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, almond, and apple trees decorate the 62 mile loop. Part of our farms sit directly on the blossom trail, adding pink blooms from our peach and nectarine orchards and white blooms from our plum orchards to this stunning display of natural beauty.
National School Breakfast Week, which launched in 1989 in order to raise awareness of and participation in school breakfast programs, is March 2-6. As alternative serving methods, such as breakfast in the classroom and breakfast on the bus, have gained in popularity, prepackaged and ready-to-eat items have become a staple in school breakfasts. HMC Farms provides value-added grapes, such as our washed and ready-to-eat Grape Escape, to schools across the nation as part of their school nutrition programs — which include breakfast, lunch, and snacks!
HMC Farms hosted a special visitor last week: Greg Ibach, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. Under Secretary Ibach toured our packing facility in Kingsburg before participating in a round table discussion on current trade issues, explaining the administration’s position and allowing us to explain ours in return. We appreciate the effort to show that the USDA cares about farmers and understands that we are in an uncomfortable position. It’s exciting that top officials in ag are showing an interest in farmers, including US Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, who visited HMC Farms last year and invited Harold to be a guest at the NYSE bell ringing earlier this year.
Red plum harvest is slowly increasing, with black plums beginning harvest soon. We have completed approximately 2/3 of leafing and tipping in our grape vineyards. At this point, we are about a month away from grape harvest. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of weeks ago we were still facing heavy rain, and we are now in the midst of a stretch of hot and sunny days.
It appears that the unusual weather period has passed, and we are now into hot and sunny days, which is typical of weather at HMC Farms in early June. The fairly sudden change in temperature has caused our tree fruit to begin maturing more rapidly, leading our farm management team to adapt to the changes while remaining selective in harvest to avoid any lingering issues from the adverse weather. We anticipate that things should be back to normal by next week.
Plum harvest at HMC Farms should increase in the next couple of weeks and be in full swing in the second half of this month. The cool weather previously slowed down the sizing of our table grapes, but with the shift to warmer temperatures they are now beginning to size at a faster pace. We are leafing and tipping in our vineyards. Tipping involves trimming each bunch in order to obtain the best size, color, and flavor for harvest.
This month has been the strangest weather we can remember at HMC Farms in the month of May. On Sunday, we received nearly 1.5″ of rain, and the high temperature was 58°. We have adjusted to deal with issues caused by the unusual weather, meaning that the fruit tastes great, but we are losing quite a bit to get it into the box. We will have to wait to see what impact the weather has had on our grapes as we approach table grape season. As the weather returns to normal, the problems we have faced in our orchards should correct themselves
Peach, nectarine, and summerwhite harvest remains ongoing. Plum harvest has begun with light volumes of Flavor Rosa plums. We estimate that the HMC Farms grape harvest will begin on par with, or possibly slightly behind, last year’s dates. The forecast shows temperatures warming up into the low 90s by early next week, which is more consistent with historical averages.
The names of tree fruit varietals often come from the nursery, but occasionally we have the opportunity to name them ourselves. Our Krista peaches are named after our very own Krista Jensen Carlson!
Tree fruit thinning is approximately 75% complete in our orchards. Peach, nectarine, and summerwhite harvest remains ongoing. Plum harvest is scheduled to begin soon. Grape harvest is estimated to begin at about the same time as last year, which could be impacted slightly by weather.
Adverse weather remains active through this weekend. While it is not good for our crops to have rain so far into the harvest season, we have been able to mitigate damages to this point. There has been minimal impact on our crops in comparison to some other types of active crops. We will continue to monitor the weather with a close eye as more rain approaches.