Norene Ranches

A wood chipper drives over a row of trimmings recently pruned from walnut trees at Norene Ranches In February 2019.

Despite a global pandemic, farmers need to continue normal routines ahead of the upcoming growing season.

Yuba-Sutter farmers are feeling the impacts of the unprecedented public health emergency brought about by COVID-19 and have had to make modifications to how they operate in order to keep their workers safe and on the job.

“We are making sure our workers are staying farther apart and washing their hands more,” said Donald Norene, a local walnut farmer and owner of Norene Ranches. “When they show up we check in to see if they are experiencing symptoms, but it’s fairly easy to stay away from one another out in the orchard, so we are moving ahead with everything and our regular production cycle.”

Rice production and other crop activities will be ramping up over the next few weeks. 

Orchards typically require maintenance year-round, and at this time of year farmers are pruning trees and applying sprays.

“If we can’t get these things done now, it’s not going to bode well for the crop in the upcoming months,” Norene said. “We are currently putting on sprays for the prevention of walnut blight. We’ve also been doing some mowing and some irrigation because this winter was so dry, so we are building up a reservoir of moisture in the soil for later in the year when it will be harder to keep up.”

Lisa Herbert, Sutter County agricultural commissioner, said one of the big impacts of the current public health emergency is that the farming industry is in need of personal protective equipment, like masks.

“Certain pesticide labels require N95 or other PPE to be worn during applications,” Herbert said. “As you can imagine the shortage for health care, first responders and farmers. This is an issue statewide, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation is aware and has reminded ag commissioners that we cannot relax on label requirements.” 

Crops like peaches are labor intensive. Local farmer Karm Bains said that at this time of year his farm workers would typically be out fertilizing, wiring trees, discing and cultivating the ground. 

However, because of the virus he’s been experiencing a worker shortage.

“We are just wrapping up pruning now. It’s never taken us this long to do that,” Bains said. 

He said the decision for some workers to stay home is a combination of both the stay-at-home order and genuine concern about the virus. 

“To see folks take it seriously, it means a great deal. The last thing we need is for people to be careless about this,” Bains said. “People are taking more precaution than they ever have before. I respect their decision but I’m also somewhat fearful of what the end result will be. Hopefully we are out of this thing sooner rather than later.” 

Aside from concerns about the upcoming grow season, there is even more uncertainty surrounding what the market will look like after harvest. 

International markets have been closing their borders due to the COVID-19 situation. 

“As far as markets go, I think that everybody is concerned about what will happen and nobody knows yet,” said Yuba County Agricultural Commission Stephen Scheer. “Farmers will continue to farm and produce food as they always have. Hopefully the market will support them into the future.” 

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