Heat a welcome change, but quick rise worries some
By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- Summer came quickly to California fields this year, but most crops were ready.
While much of the spring brought rain and temperatures that were well below normal, the warmer weather that arrived in mid-June was a welcome change for field crops, according to a report from the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service.
After rain cut into the hay harvest earlier this year, alfalfa growers have been getting cuttings throughout the state this month while sunflower seed, corn and bean planting continued, the report states.
Rice planting is mostly complete, with a majority of the planted fields having emerged, and the wheat harvest has been moving north as plants have reached maturity, according to the NASS report.
Meanwhile, the almond, walnut and prune orchards are holding up well, although it might have been better for the trees if the warm-up were gradual, said Rick Buchner, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Red Bluff.
"We haven't found a whole lot of problems at this point," Buchner said. "We've seen some pretty good prune and walnut crops."
Temperatures have risen dramatically since the second week in June, when a significant low-pressure system dumped up to a quarter-inch of rain in the Central Valley and more than an inch in the Sierra Nevadas.
Triple-digit heat arrived in the Central Valley and foothills for the first time this year on June 21, as a dominant high-pressure system ushered in the official start of summer.
The quick transition worries cherry growers whose harvest was severely crippled by major rain halfway through the season.
The heat has prompted navel orange growers in the San Joaquin Valley to rush to get the remaining fruit off the trees and into packing houses, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual in Exeter. The harvest season for navels is almost over.
"The cool weather actually, as much as the weather moved against us earlier in the season, helped us out near the end," Blakely said. "We were able to keep the utilization up. The fruit did not deteriorate as quickly as we thought it might."
Grape growers are glad to see the change. Farmers had been battling the nagging cool weather as it slowed grape growth, causing mildew and fungus to spread, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Growers still expect a high-quality crop if the weather cooperates from now on, the Farm Bureau reports.
Among other crops, according to NASS:
* The Valencia orange and grapefruit harvest has continued, as the blueberry harvest has gone into full swing and strawberry picking has been going on throughout the state. Strawberry nursery planting is about finished.
* In the San Joaquin Valley, carrots have been harvested in Kern County while onions and garlic in Fresno County were maturing to harvest. Processing tomatoes are starting to grow after the cool weather had held them back.
* Non-irrigated pasture and rangeland are in good condition as precipitation in the foothills and northern part of the state maintained soil moisture. Warmer temperatures will stimulate growth and extend the high quality of range this season.
USDA NASS California Crop Weather report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/20110612crpw.pdf