Elements Challenge Golden State Agronomy

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Little Johns Creek at a high water level near South Jack Tone Road on March 2, 2023.

All facets of the California agricultural industry have been affected by the extreme weather. No one predicted these extreme events that garnered national attention and each producer, agricultural business, manufacturer, and community have their own unique perspectives of how they were impacted within their respective territories. 

Anthony Ratto, a fourth generation produce farmer, has seen some challenges that Ratto Bros. have faced this year.Two of the major hurdles were land preparation mistakenly done during wet conditions and the delay of planting major vegetables. “We had a late start on groundwork specifically for the tomato crop. Planting delays have caused some crops to bunch up,” Ratto explained. Considering the large-scale flooding in Salinas Valley, one of the major vegetable production regions, there was a 90-day wait period after the floods subsided that caused significant planting delays. Although the California vegetable industry is still faced with a bear market as major shippers have found alternative locations to continue commercial production. Only a few vegetables such as red cabbage, cauliflower, celery, and broccoli have become a hot commodity due to less acreage for a certain period of time. 

Long-time California irrigation industry expert and CEO of Pacific SouthWest Irrigation Corp., Jim Clare, has never seen flooding at this magnitude that has affected the entire 450-mile stretch of Central Valley. Clare explains that most Central Valley farmers finish land preparation (e.g., land-leveling, disking) in the fall season which allows irrigation dealers to complete system installations by the end of May. “Our company has faced lots of overtime but only to get the job done and done right. We finished in mid to late June this year.” Pacific SouthWest Irrigation played a key role in assisting with flood relief efforts on Highway 99 this past January. 

Nick Mussi, a third generation farmer who helps operate L&R Mussi Farms and Triple M Custom Farming in the San Joaquin Delta, had to strategize a new agronomic plan due to double the normal rainfall all at one time. “Not so much the river water stage got high, but so much rain that our drainage systems couldn’t keep up. We have seen some of our fields under 3 feet of standing water.” Consequently, more silage corn and processed tomatoes were planted on Mussi Farms because of an allowed late planting date for the two crops. 

A Pacific SouthWest Irrigation crew installing a drip irrigation system in a San Joaquin County cherry orchard this past spring.

Nick Bavaro, a long-time almond, pistachio, and walnut farmer in Escalon, CA relates to this year’s extreme wet weather comparable to 1984. The addition of colder temperatures during the bloom almond period did no favors as that suppressed bee pollination. This has caused a 40% reduction in the almond yield for Bavaro Farming which adds to the adversity considering the almond markets have been poor. “Things have really slowed down including sales, prices are barely at breakeven, and we are just trying to survive,” said Bavaro. The hot dry spells of consistent triple-digit temperatures have been another weather challenge the last few summers in San Joaquin Valley. Bavaro explains how the almond trees essentially shut down and do not fully perform important nut development processes during the heat stress period. 

Vince Smith, a Netafim District Sales Manager for the Central Valley Region, tries to look at the positive side of the weather impacts such as necessary groundwater recharge and the refill of large reservoirs that supply water to millions of Californians. Smith also mentions the soaring prices for processing tomatoes in the past year due to the pandemic which has caused a significant increase in drip tape (commonly used to irrigate tomatoes) sales. For the majority of Northern California, harvest for major crops such as almonds will occur deep into October. ¨I predict this will be a busy upcoming fall,¨ said Smith.

Coming next month, “The Rise of Modern On-Farm Irrigation Technologies.” 

Resources and funding for this article provided by Pacific SouthWest Irrigation

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  • Thanks, Jacob Rix, for the education on farmers’ problems. We don’t get articles like this in our Stockton Record!

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