Many growers are still dealing with wet fields

Issue Date: June 7, 2017
By Kevin Hecteman

It may not be raining much anymore, but all that water is still doing a number on some growers of California peaches, walnuts and almonds.

Exactly how big of a number is still unknown.

Janine Hasey, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties, said that her area was seeing two separate issues. One involved river bottom orchards inside the levees, which flooded several times this year.

"The growers actually know that there's that risk involved," Hasey said. "It's just that this year, the rivers ran high for a long time."

The other involved seepage under the levees reaching orchards on the other side.

"Because the rivers ran high, and they ran for a long time, we had a lot of seepage," Hasey said. "What I'm seeing, really, is unprecedented in my career, which is over 35 years."

Hasey pointed to flooding in 1986, which left orchards inundated for about 45 days, and in 1997, during which many farms were flooded for a couple of months.

"We've had orchards that have had seepage water in them since January, and it just started drying out in May," she said. Most trees can handle that when they're dormant, but once they wake up, roots deprived of oxygen can suffer waterlogging damage, she said. Another concern is phytophthora, a mold that can infect and kill trees.

On top of that, Yuba County saw the collapse of the banks of the Feather River in early March after the Oroville Dam's spillway was shut down, causing river levels to fall rapidly. Soil didn't have time to dry out, Hasey said, and when the water ran back out into the river, the banks collapsed.

"That's a continuing erosion problem," Hasey said. "We have some growers who've actually lost trees in the river because of the erosion, not to mention acres of land."

The effects of this collapse will be felt for years, if not decades, Hasey said.

"It took down all the riverbank," she said. "All of our trees and vegetation that was stabilizing the bank went in the river."

Growers of peaches, walnuts and almonds will have to make assessments as the summer progresses, Hasey said.

"When the trees really start trying to pull water and they can't, that's when they collapse," Hasey said.

"We're not going to know the full extent until next year, and then there will probably be some trees that kind of hang on and just don't do well," Hasey said.

In Sacramento County, diversified farmer Ken Oneto of Elk Grove reported losing 1,100 walnut trees in an orchard flooded by the nearby Cosumnes River. The loss totaled 15 acres, or about one-third of the orchard. (A photo of this orchard appeared in the March 1 edition of Ag Alert.)

A neighbor took out a levee a couple of years ago to increase flooding intervals, Oneto said; the plan didn't work, and seepage under his levee got into his orchard. The water finally left the field on May 8, he added.

"We lost six years on them," Oneto said. The trees had only one year's production, he added.

Elsewhere on Oneto's property, the last remnants of a Union Pacific freight train that derailed Feb. 10 are being cleaned up. The last of the cars were removed May 8, Oneto said, and the contents—mainly tomato paste—were still being hauled away. Floodwaters made it difficult for cleanup crews to reach the site.

Meanwhile, a rare end-of-May rain raised fears that the cherry crop might be affected by split fruit, but Matt Nowak of Grower Direct Marketing in Stockton said the crop is unaffected.

"We were pretty fortunate," Nowak said, noting his area received only about 0.1 inch of rain late at night, followed by a cool morning. "At this point in the season, the optical sorting technology that most of the packing sheds are using are able to minimize the effects of rain damage."

Nowak, who works in domestic and export sales, said that technology has been a boon for companies such as O-G Packing of Stockton, a Grower Direct sister company.

"They do such a good job getting that fruit out that we're still able to take what little damage comes in on that fruit that's running across the line and get it out of a packed box," Nowak said. "We shouldn't see any effect of it at all as an industry."

Those with flooding issues in their orchards can find a list of actions to take and programs that may be available to help them here:

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.