Unstable weather could alter valley fruit and vegetable harvests | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Unstable weather could alter valley fruit and vegetable harvests

Susan Wood

With our wet, cold winter weather this year, agricultural officials say they’re keeping an eye on spring conditions to see how the crops will fare.

Many crops are either late or in jeopardy of abnormal harvests.

For one, there’s a question of whether the Central Valley tomato crops will be planted on time.

“It’s been a strange year. The rain has been hit and miss. (The wet season) could have some effect. The (tomato) planting could be late. That’s the problem with those crops. You plant now, and you’ll lose the tractor,” El Dorado County Agricultural Commissioner Bill Stephans said on Monday.

Stephans also shared concerns about the state of fruit on the West Slope, including apples and pears.

“If we get a cold spell, and with getting a lot of leaves budded out, the buds could break,” he said. “It’s all about the weather for farmers.”

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In the Central Valley, tomato harvesting is set over 27,600 acres, down 1 percent from 2004. “In California, continued rainfall and wet soil conditions slowed field activity throughout March leading to a decrease in harvested acres,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture noted in a reported released last Friday.

The bulk of the tomato crops in California are used for canning and processing. Anything from salsa, to spaghetti sauce, to ketchup for those barbecue lovers may find a hike in the price.

But it’s all wait and see at this point, California Farm Bureau spokesman Dave Kranz said.

“We’ve heard the concerns, but we’ll know in the next few weeks. The farmers will have to wait, so the ground dries out to get the equipment in there to do the job,” he said.

There’s also a question of whether the plums will have survived severe weather in February and March, Kranz said. Almond trees, which have started to bloom, also are sensitive. Wind, hail and drenching rain could knock off the blooms. The state has seen a little bit of everything this year, including a tornado in Sacramento.

“Every crop has a window of time where it can blossom,” he said.

The strawberry harvest was delayed this year from this season’s heavy rainfall, which caused fruit damage. But Kranz said production in recent weeks has improved.

Much of the same could be said for the melon, celery and cauliflower crops, which progressed slowly due to cool temperatures, excessive rainfall and cloudy skies. Watermelons and honeydews, in particular, will come in two weeks behind schedule from its late spring harvest. This is also true of spring onions, the USDA reported.

The California sweet corn crop was characterized as being in “good to excellent condition,” the federal report adds.

And head lettuce is still on schedule despite the rainfall.

Overall, the whims of the weather may prove why grocers turn to a number of various sources for produce. With Safeway, the South Lake Tahoe store carries Roma tomatoes from Mexico and other produce from South America.