Rain delays crops and spring planting

Issue Date: April 3, 2019
By Kevin Hecteman
Kulwant Johl looks at walnut trees in his Marysville orchard. Johl, who grows peaches, walnuts, prunes and almonds, says these trees should be blossoming but remain dormant because of late-season rain.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman
Marysville farmer Kulwant Johl holds up peach blossoms whose development into peaches has been delayed by late-season rain. Johl said he won’t know until later in spring how yields are affected.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Farmers and baseball players have one thing in common this time of year: rain delays.

Kulwant Johl, a tree-crop farmer in Marysville, was still seeing blooms on his peach trees last week—a time when he should have been seeing young peaches.

Persistent rainfall, such as Northern California experienced as spring began, affects peaches in two ways, he said.

"One is, we got too much rain, and the soil is really wet," Johl said. "Peaches can't take that," especially if planted on ground with poor drainage where trees are left in standing water, making them vulnerable to Phytophthora and root rot, he added.

"Another is, when it keeps on raining, the bloom stays wet," Johl said. "Flowers rot, which kills peaches before they can get going."

Fungicide use is limited by regulations forbidding applications within 48 hours of predicted rainfall if soil is saturated, he added.

As for how yields will be affected, "it's too early," Johl said. "We will find out when it gets hot. Right now, you can't tell."

It will be late April or early May before he knows for sure, he added.

Rich Hudgins, president and chief executive of the California Canning Peach Association, said he foresees no issues in the long run.

"We had a statewide full bloom this year on March 18," Hudgins said, adding that the date tied the modern record for the latest full-bloom date, set in 1990.

"That said, I would say growers are generally satisfied with what they're seeing on the bloom," Hudgins added. "It's just that, No. 1, colder-than-normal weather is slowing down crop development. And secondly, intermittent rainfall means growers are having to spray more."

Hudgins said his association will have its first estimate of the 2019 crop in mid-May. Last year, California cling-peach farmers harvested 256,000 tons.

"At this point, we've got the makings of an average crop, but we're spending more money to protect it along the way," Hudgins said.

Cotton growers are also playing the waiting game.

Gino Pedretti III, whose El Nido farm raises the fiber along with alfalfa, corn, wheat and cattle, said rain and cooler weather are keeping him out of the cotton fields. He usually starts planting around March 25.

"Normally, we'd already have cotton in the ground, or at least doing ground work, and we haven't been able to do any of that preparation yet," said Pedretti, who also serves as president of the Merced County Farm Bureau. "What we look for is sunny, dry weather. (We) like to have 75-degree temperatures, roughly, during the day and warmer nights. We're looking for the soil temperature to be around 60 degrees, which is definitely not there right now."

Pedretti grows pima and acala cotton. He said he prefers to have pima planted by April 15, whereas acala should be fine if it's planted by the end of April—as long as harvest weather cooperates. Harvest usually begins in mid-October and runs for about three weeks, he said—and rain at harvest could cause his yield to shrink.

"You can't pick cotton when there's moisture in it. You have to wait till it dries out," Pedretti said. "If it gets a lot of rain, it can actually knock some of the fiber off the plant, which you won't be able to pick up"—and what's left on the plant may be of lesser quality, he noted.

Cotton growers such as Pedretti often end up "playing both ends of the calendar," said Bob Hutmacher, a University of California Cooperative Extension specialist and director of the West Side Research and Extension Center in Fresno County.

"You can't plant too early in the spring, or the plant won't grow very well and will be more subject to diseases," Hutmacher said. "You can't plant too late, or you'll run out of growing season, potentially, in the fall."

Cool and wet soil conditions can open the door for multiple disease issues, Hutmacher said; he's usually concerned about Fusarium race 4 and Rhizoctonia.

"All the seedling diseases tend to be worse if you plant under cold, wet conditions and those kind of conditions persist," he said. "Most of this, it just depends on how long the poor conditions last."

Hutmacher said pima farmers usually grow more concerned if they haven't been able to plant by mid-April.

"Then, a lot of people start feeling like you're running late on planting to where you may run into some problems with being able to mature out a high-yielding crop in time for changes in the fall weather," he said.

UCCE maintains a Cotton Planting Forecast at ipm.ucanr.edu/WEATHER/cottonforecast.html.

Scott Stoddard, a UCCE vegetable crops advisor in Merced County, said tomato growers in his area are running late, but not catastrophically so.

"What I hear is that everybody's sort of saying, 'We're about two weeks behind where we'd want to be,'" Stoddard said. "But nonetheless, people still are started. They're doing their thing. The biggest effect, they haven't been able to get quite as many acres in per week as they would like."

Tomato transplanting in his area started around March 20, he added, while growers to the north are even further behind schedule and may not be able to harvest until August.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

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

Special Reports



Special Issues

Special Sections