Cold weather delays local produce coming to market

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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At Wednesday’s DeWitt Center Farmers Market, the few vendors who had booths all agreed that the weather has slowed production. “Everything is really late,” said Nicole Salle from Salle Orchards in Wheatland. The cherries have been particularly impacted. “We lost from 50 to 60 percent of the crop,” she said. The problem was compounded by the abundance of split cherries found among the ones that did make it through. Even so, there were plenty of cherries, strawberries and raspberries, as well as some nectarines. There was also an abundance of lettuce and other greens. The greens are flourishing and lasting later in the season because of the cool weather, Salle said. But some traditional favorites were absent. “The tomatoes and squash have been very slow,” Salle said. “But if we have some good weather, they’ll catch up. By now, we would have had squash, apricots, several (more) varieties of cherries and other stone fruits.” Her family has farmed Salle Orchards for more than 50 years and has been selling produce at farmers markets for 30 years. This is the coldest and longest rainy season she’s seen, she said. Nearby, Alicia Ortega from Ortega Family Farm in Loomis was selling cherries and raspberries, along with cilantro. “Normally there would be more,” she said. At the Rodriguez Berries and Vegetables booth, the baskets of strawberries were attracting plenty of notice. But it hasn’t been an easy year, according to booth manager Miguel Alvarez. The Watsonville growers started the strawberries in early March as usual, but then had to stop for a couple of weeks because of the rain. The difficulties extended through the spring. As late as last week, Rodriguez employees were picking as many berries as possible Wednesday and Thursday because of the forecast for rain starting Friday and lasting through the weekend, Alvarez said. Farmers Market manager Carol Arnold said growers have been telling her that crops are running two to three weeks late. “And some crops they had trouble getting into the ground because of the mud,” she said. “We’re hoping some heat will catch it up.” Current crops that are producing include boysenberries, some peaches and some zucchini. “(Growers) don’t have enough ripe, sweet fruit,” she said. “Peaches just aren’t sweet enough because it takes heat to sweeten them.” Arnold acknowledged that the number of farmers bringing produce to the market is smaller that usual for this time of year, but she expects it to increase substantially in the coming weeks. “One of our growers got an inch and a half of rain Saturday,” Arnold said. “They couldn’t even get into the field to look at what they had because there was so much mud.” The overall impact of the extended rainy season is that things are going to be slower to mature, Placer County Agricultural Commissioner Joshua Huntsinger said Wednesday. “It’s more of an immediate impact,” he said. “If temperatures are normal for the rest of the season, things should even out for the most part.” The early peaches, apricots and cherries will be the most affected. However, two of Placer County’s main crops — mandarins and wine grapes — should be fine. There could be a delay in wine grapes, but the impact will be negligible if the season becomes normal now, he said. However, the wet weather has meant more pest-control strategies for farmers. “With grapes for instance, if you get wet weather and then warm weather, you are going to have powdery mildew problems,” he said. “It is the most common pest for grapes. Basically it results from warm humid conditions.” Still, Huntsinger hasn’t heard many complaints. “Up until Monday, we were wanting it to rain as much as possible because of the canal break,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, for those people without water, the wet weather was a huge positive. But we are starting to see those impacts from the delays in ripening that a lot of our annual crops are experiencing.” Reach Gloria Young at