The Central Valley of California is an agricultural mecca, the land of vegetables, fruits, and nuts. It is why we have made our home here — to be in the center of the nation’s salad bowl. We get the bright sun, refreshing breezes, and fresh crops as far as the eye can see. But it is no secret California has received a record-setting amount of rain and snow this winter. That’s great news for the drought, but now we’re seeing the effects of all that rain first hand.
This year, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was the largest in the past four years combined, giving snow enthusiasts an amazing winter and contributing to the wettest water year on record for California. While California’s drought has essentially been eliminated (save for some areas of the southern region), this doesn’t necessarily mean all good news for farmers. Over the years, California farmers have accommodated and worked with the state’s ubiquitous drought measures to ensure plentiful crops and normalized harvest schedules. Now, they have to account for the opposite.
As rain soaked most of the state in the winter months, it was an opportunity to experiment and test water storage applications. Adaptable and community-minded, California’s farmers are always working to progress and advance farming practices. In early January, as rivers flooded, farmers worked to harvest the water, flooding orchards and fields in an attempt to offset upcoming dry, hot weather, and recharge the state’s aquifers.
However, the immediate effect of all this rain and snow melt is being felt across the country. Have you noticed the price of fruit and vegetables creeping up both in farmers markets and brick-and-mortar grocery stores? Too much water can harbor mold and mildew on some crops, and others don’t have the ability to prosper in the oversaturated soil, meaning farmers are experiencing crop loss, and supply is struggling to keep up with the demand.
Flooding has considerably impacted scheduling operations. Late planting, losing crops, and even produce quality are being affected by the wet weather. Delayed planting means farmers are not able to stick to a harvest-plant cycle. Crops are being compressed into shorter growing times, with farmers waiting for plants to just hurry up and grow. This means plants will be ripening all at the same time, instead of being spaced out through the season.
But what about tree crops that are withstanding the rainy weather a bit better? Blossoms may be knocked off by winds and rain, resulting in uneven production, and the weather is too wet, the ground too muddy for workers to tend to the trees. At Mercer Foods, we are nestled in beautiful almond orchards. Almonds, California’s largest crop, do not do well with excess moisture during bloom season, especially if they cannot be maintained due to weather.
However, farmers and food distributors agree, while the rain has brought a few speed bumps, the region is in a much better place than it was during the drought. The weather will let up, the ground will dry, and farmers will continue to adapt and innovate to deliver and grow some of the best produce in world.
The health of California’s farms is essential to what we do every day. The fresh produce they provide becomes the freeze-dried counterparts that could be a shelf-stable addition to your next food product. And as always, join the sustainable food conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter.