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Weather delays California crops, but relief is in the forecast

by Tim Linden | June 09, 2011

On the evening of June 5, parts of the expansive San Joaquin Valley were deluged with an inch-and-a-half of rain. This unusually large amount of rain this late in the spring has put an exclamation point on the cold, wet spring that California has experienced.

“In 1995, it hailed on June 15,” said Wayne Brandt, president of Brandt Farms Inc. in Reedley, CA, discussing the last time June produced such a weather abnormality. “Some dates just stick with you.”

He said that June of this year will definitely be one for both the record book and the memory bank. But then he quickly added, “We had some cold weather like this last year as well. We are starting to wonder if this is going to be the pattern.”

In 2010, a much colder-than-normal spring did delay the start of the California tree fruit and grape deals from the valley, causing most growers to be about a week behind the previous year. This year the weather has even been colder, with many varieties and trees two weeks behind 2009 pick dates.

The San Joaquin Valley had more days below 70 degrees in May than in any time in recorded history, and there were virtually no days when temperatures were above normal.

But there is heat at the end of the tunnel.

Temperatures were forecast to hit 90 degrees by June 10 and again for most of the week of June 13. Other than the freak rainstorm that hit the first weekend of June, there had been a slight increase in temperatures, and the fruit was maturing.

“Most shippers are seeing more volume, and supplies are picking up,” said Mr. Brandt. “Within two weeks, we could see some very good volumes.”

In fact, on Wednesday, June 8, Mr. Brandt said that he was writing some ad orders for three weeks down the road, anticipating strong volume by then on peaches, plums and nectarines. With supplies lagging behind a bit, the market was strong. Both the plum and nectarine markets were above the $20 level, while nectarines were in the high teens.

The cold and wet spring weather also has caused the California cherry crop to be much lighter and later than usual.

Richard Sambado, director of domestic sales for Primavera Marketing Inc. in Linden, CA, said June 7, “All we have left is the Bing variety, and that was very, very light to begin with. First we were hit with a rain on May 18 and then again on May 25. And then we had heavy rain this past weekend (June 4-5). What it has done is taken a crop that was projected at 4 million [cartons] before the season and reduced it to somewhere between 2 [million] and 2.5 million [cartons].”

He said that the heavy crop of 2010 is partly responsible for the reduction in 2011 because the trees tend to follow a big year with a smaller year, but the rain definitely took its toll.

“There was a lot of rain damage,” Mr. Sambado said. “Our output has been excellent with very nice fruit, but there was a lot of splitting, and we’ve lost fruit.”

With light supplies, the market was above $50 per carton, and the California crop has been in a demand-exceeds-supply situation all season.

“But getting a few more dollars per carton doesn’t make up for the lost fruit,” said Mr. Sambado.

Primavera also grows and sells apples, and the California crop is expected to begin harvest around Aug. 1. This is also a late start due to the weather.

“We were late last year because of the weather, and we are going to be even later this year,” he said. “But the crop is looking good.”

Mr. Sambado said that the weather throughout June and July will have a lot of influence over how late that crop is.

The same can be said for the California grape crop from the San Joaquin Valley, but at this point it does look like there is going to be some length of time between the end of the Coachella Valley production and the start of the season in the Arvin district in the southern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley.

David Berg, who operates David H. Berg & Co. Inc. in Springville, CA, said June 8 that a gap does appear to be developing between those two deals. Coachella, which has been shipping since May, is expected to finish its harvest prior to the end of June.

“Most everyone in Arvin usually gets started in early July, but there are always a couple of guys that start in June,” said Mr. Berg. “But not this year. Nobody will start until after July 1 — and maybe not until after the Fourth of July.”

However, he said that the San Joaquin Valley can get hot with an extended heat wave working its magic on the crop.

“Then all of a sudden a crop that is seven days late is only five days or three days late. We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.