Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Weathering the weather - Forget the summer blister, farmers still dealing with strange spring

Article Launched: 07/24/2005 07:20:23 AM

Weathering the weather
Forget the summer blister, farmers still dealing with strange spring

By Catherine Moy/Special to The Reporter

Bob Hansen shows how a lot of hard work by grape growers in Suisun Valley has eliminated mildew issues brought on by an extended spring. (Rick Roach/The Reporter)

Never mind the blistering heat of summer. Bob Hansen is still dealing with the spring weather that promoted disease and delayed some Solano County crops.

Hansen, a farmer, also runs the Suisun Valley Fruitgrowers Association and is an elected member of the Solano Irrigation District, which supplies water to Solano County farmers and ranchers.

Late rains caused problems in some crops, such as cracking in cherries and, overall, pollination was slow due to the cool spring and precipitation, Hansen said. But many farmers locally may have dodged irreparable damage.

"It was cold for so long that we didn't get the heat units

Water stands in pools around an almond orchard after a rain storm left Dixon soaked in late March. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

we needed," he said." The Suisun Valley Fruitgrowers Association has sold four times the usual amount of products to stop fungi and other disease that the weather can cause, Hansen said.

"We have had a real problem with pears - especially because of the rain on June 17," he said.

Hansen and his son are working more hours than usual, starting with the rising sun. They don't usually leave his orchards and vineyards until nightfall, he said.

Farmers and ranchers are used to dealing with various weather patterns. Solano County farmers will pull through the weather problems, said Mario Moratorio, small farms adviser for the California Cooperative Extension Office for Yolo and Solano counties.

"They are really doing a good job," Hansen said.

Agriculture is a major engine for Solano County's economy. Last year, the gross agricultural product for the county was $205,748,600, down 4 percent from 2002. That number does not include the costs of business for farmers and ranchers, many of whom are struggling to survive.

Farmers who grow field crops have taken a serious hit in the

past decade from international growers, who don't work under

the stringent pesticide laws and environmental restrictions that U.S. farmers face. Solano County farmers in 1995 brought in $67 million in gross receipts for field crops, but that number plummeted to $49 million last year, according to Solano County's 2004 crop report.

The unusual spring weather may turn out to be a blessing for some local farmers and ranchers, Moratorio said.

While the rain can cause mildew problems with wine grapes - Solano County's No. 6 grossing crop last year at $10 million - the spring weather may boost the crop, he said.

"Extra rains in spring for grape growers might have been a godsend," Moratorio said.

The weather may also help produce a good prune crop.

"Prices should be good for prunes," Hansen said.

Things are not so rosy in other parts of the state, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation. Farmers report that warm spring rains forced them to stay out of their fields and caused rust on hay.

"The 2005 cherry season concluded with approximately half of the overall crop being destroyed by consistent rains through the season," San Joaquin County grower Missy Gotelli told the Farm Bureau.

Mike Vukelich, a Contra Costa County nurseryman, told the Farm Bureau that the late spring rains will hurt business, which is already burdened by low prices and increased costs of production.

"Our family's horticultural growers Color Spot and Cal Color suffered one of the worst springs in many years," he said. "Consumers did not purchase as many plants as normal because of continuous rain during the spring season."

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