Despite new hurdles to jump, most local sectors report good yields

Tomatoes are loaded into a truck at River Vista Farms outside of Colusa. California tomato crops provide more than 95 percent of the tomato products consumed across the nation. 

 

Like most every other part of life, the ag industry has felt the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The impact … on California agricultural businesses was severe, unprecedented, and will continue to affect the industry for the coming months and years,” it was stated in the COVID-19 California Agricultural Economic Impact Analysis produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation. 

Still, it looks like most commodity markets in California are reporting successful harvests. 

“Yields this year are normal to above normal,” said Mitchell Yerxa, District One Board of Directors representative for the California Association of Tomato Growers and farm manager at River Vista Farms in Colusa.

“It has been a good growing year for almost all crops, tomatoes, almonds, rice etc.  It was a little slow maturing at first when temperatures were cooler, but when the heat came and stayed, almost every crop came earlier than normal. Prunes and almonds especially were 7-10 days earlier than the year before.”

Here is a breakdown of three of the biggest sectors in the region: 

Rice

Jim Morris, communications manager for the California Rice Commission, said since rice harvest is just underway it is too early to have specific yield information.

“However, everything points to another strong year, with average to above-average yield and quality,” said Morris. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 504,000 acres of rice will be harvested in California this year, with about 4.3 billion pounds produced, figures that are slightly up from last year according to Morris. 

Morris said at the onset of the pandemic, the rice industry saw reduced restaurant and foodservice orders and greater retail demand.

“As our harvest is underway, we’re gearing up for export of new crop rice and we expect everything to go well,” said Morris. “Domestic demand should be solid.”

Tomatoes

Yerxa said although tomato yields are up this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard to have enough truck drivers to haul products, such as canning tomatoes, to places like the Morningstar tomato processing and packing company in Williams. 

“Because they are short of drivers this year, whether it be parents staying home with their kids due to school closures or otherwise, it has put a strain on the market of who can move that product on a timely basis,” said Yerxa. 

According to Yerxa, while many people continue working at their normal jobs, COVID has changed which part time or seasonal employees are choosing to not come back for this season. 

“This area has made it out quite well comparatively to what the rest of the state has experienced, but even still you can see it mainly in labor shortages,” said Yerxa.

“More than anything is the overall stress of what might be coming next down the pipeline. Now that farms are harvesting rice, almonds, and about to begin walnuts, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as money starts to come in to pay down farm credit loans for the year.”

Dairy 

Annie AcMoody, director of economic analysis for Western United Dairies, said while they do not have data for August, dairies have been impacted by the extreme heat this summer.

“I expect this will result in lower milk yields for most operations,” said AcMoody. “We have received many anecdotal reports that milk production is down for many across the state.”

AcMoody said that in the months prior to August, milk yields were ahead of where they were last year and market demand in the U.S. has been up for dairy producers in recent months.

“In particular, if you look at American cheese, domestic consumption was up 8 percent year-over-year in June,” said AcMoody. “Domestic consumption for butter was up 16 percent year-over-year in June.”

Many of the bottleneck issues that occurred along the daily supply chain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic got resolved very quickly, said AcMoody, and things have since gotten back to smoother logistics. 

Prunes

Despite facing many challenges related to wildfires and market disruptions caused by the pandemic, the California Prune harvest wrapped up on schedule this year. 

According to a release issued by the California Prune Board, growers and handlers are anticipating a production of 45,000 metric tons this year, a decrease of 37 percent from last year. 

Despite this, data reported to growers and handlers at the conclusion of the 2019 crop year on July 31 seemed to underscored consumer desire for California prunes, it was stated in the release, as shipments to export markets jumped 17 percent and domestic shipments improved by 12 percent compared to 2019.

“While the pandemic has fueled consumers’ focus on healthy foods, the California Prune industry regularly promotes the nutritional profile and invests in nutrition research that elevates the health benefits of prunes,” said Donn Zea, Executive Director of the California Prune Board. “We are grateful that so many consumers have chosen California Prunes during this time. We plan on doing everything we can to earn and keep their trust.”

 

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