Soggy spring no treat for growers
Incessant spring rains have already proved disastrous for Mid-Valley fruit growers, and now rice farmers are dealing with the soggy aftermath.
"It was a wet spring, so it's really put the rice guys in a bind," said Mat Conant, president of the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau. "They're way behind in their planting, (and) a lot of land wasn't even planted."
Rice is an aquatic crop, so some might think the wet weather would have farmers cheering. But cool, cloudy days don't provide heat or sunshine to kick the young plants into high gear.
"Once you get it planted, it likes 80-, 90-degree temperatures," Conant said. "We haven't had any warm nights, either, and that stimulates the rice growth."
Farm Bureau board member Charley Mathews farms rice in Yuba and Placer counties. He said he's weeks behind in his herbicide applications and probably won't harvest until late September or October.
"A lot of our cultural practices require dry weather," he said. "The untimely, erratic rainstorms just throw a wrench into everything."
Rice farmers will face double trouble if the fall rains arrive early, since they'll face the same sticky soil that hampered field preparation this spring.
"Our risk has gone up substantially because of these things, but you don't really know until the year ends," Mathews said. "Just get me to 90 degrees and I'll be fine."
If there's a bright spot to the weird weather, Conant said, this year's walnut crop should be plentiful.
"It's going to be a very good walnut year, both in quality and quantity," he said. Even so, operational costs will be higher since soggy farmers sprayed more chemicals to ward off walnut blight.
Almond ranchers didn't fare as well, with a 45 percent crop loss expected this year. Mark Quisenberry, Sutter County agricultural commissioner, said the cold and chill in February hampered pollination.
"The bees wouldn't get out of their hives," he said.
Self-pollinating prunes don't require insect assistance, but crop losses hit 60 percent when high temperatures, low humidity and gusting winds formed a blossom blowtorch in March. It's the second straight year local ag officials have sought disaster relief for dried plum growers, and for Sutter cherry growers who lost their whole crop this year.
Quisenberry said his staff hasn't seen such constant wet weather in decades.
"They saw it 25, 30 years ago and haven't seen it since," he said. "This is a repeat of weather from eons ago, so we don't know if we're moving into a new weather pattern."
For Yuba City grower Sam Nevis, who raises four crops in four counties, the rainfall is testing his patience while putting a damper on crop yield and profits.
"It's taken years off my life," Nevis said, only half joking. "This spring's been really tough."
He chose not to plant one-fourth of his rice acreage, and is incurring extra costs for fuel and fungicide to protect his waterlogged peaches.
"We're seeing some brown rot showing up in the early varieties of cling peaches in the outlying areas of Yuba City and Marysville," Nevis said. "Peach growers are going to have a tough time with their early and extra-early varieties with quality."
Features Editor Michael S. Green can be reached at 749-4775. You may e-mail him at mgreen@appeal- democrat.com.