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Rains causing plenty of trouble for area farmers

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Rains causing plenty of trouble for area farmers

Samples of water-damaged strawberries are shown by Sang Saechao whose family farms the strawberry fields on the corner of West Yosemite and McKinley avenues. They sell the freshly picked fruit at t...

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED April 22, 2010 2:38 a.m.
April showers bring May flowers. But for area farmers, they would like to see the rains go away at least for a while.

“We had to stop planting tomatoes because of the rain,” said Kevin Robertson who farms about 4,500 acres in the South San Joaquin area with most of it located in Tracy.

They were able to plant about a quarter of their tomato acreage before this last storm, but “now we have to wait” for a break in the wet weather, he said.

He wanted to sound optimistic; however, “Rain is forecasted for next week, too, on Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said with guarded optimism.

Robertson said it’s hard to say whether this will delay the tomato harvest. “The plants might catch up” once they start growing, “but at this point, you can’t really worry about it.”

San Joaquin County Farm Bureau advisor Joe Grant confirmed, “there was some planting that people were able to get done before this last series of storms rolled through.”

But that’s just part of the story from out in the fields. Crops that are being harvested now are also being jeopardized by the ongoing spate of soggy weather.

Sang Saechao, whose family is now in the midst of picking strawberries to sell at their fruit stand on the corner of West Yosemite and McKinley avenues, said they had to throw away a lot of water-damaged fruit on Wednesday.

Fortunately, the rains did not start until “after nine, 10 o’clock,” so they were able to bring in a lot of the ripe strawberries to keep their fruit stand open all day by starting the picking right around sunup, Saechao said.

“It was cold but it was dry,” he said of the weather early in the morning.

The cold weather is also impacting the asparagus harvest which is now in full swing. For one thing, “It’s harder to harvest it when it’s wet,” explained Robertson.

Asparagus harvest started in March and will go on through May, he said.

“But with the cold weather, production is lower. The plant is not growing as fast. And we still have three to four weeks of harvest left,” he added.

They are not worried about having enough to supply the perennially popular asparagus festival in Stockton though. The Robertsons are among several growers supplying the 40,000 pounds of asparagus consumed at the annual extravaganza in downtown Stockton.

“Every day for the last week or so, we’ve been saving a portion (of the harvest) for the festival. Most of the growers set asparagus aside for that. Asparagus holds really well in a cooling shed,” Robertson said.

The heavy rains are also worrying cherry farmers, Grant said, because rain causes the cherry to split open. This problem though is currently affecting cherry growers in the Fresno and Bakersfield area more than farmers here in San Joaquin County.

“In our area, cherries are not on the stage of ripening yet. The cherries here are already an inch in diameter, still green but we’re going to be picking cherries here in the second or third week in May,” Grant said.

Another crop that is also adversely affected by the rains is alfalfa. They usually do the cutting in mid-April, so “we’re 21 days behind” because of the rains, Robertson said.

“You don’t want the alfalfa rained on. Quality goes way down if it’s rained on,” he said.

Since they cut alfalfa about six times a year, this delay “will push our schedule all year,” he added. They like to start the alfalfa harvest in April and end in October before the rains start in earnest. But because they’re starting late this spring, the last cutting will “probably get rained on too,” he said.

Manteca farmers like Arnold Rothlin understand that dilemma only too well.

“This (rain) is just putting us behind,” he said. “We usually start cutting alfalfa the week after Easter. That’s been three weeks now, so we’re behind. The ground is all wet. We need 10 to 12 days of no rain,” said Rothlin who farms about 600 acres in and around the Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon area.

“But I’m not going to complain,” he quickly added. “This is better than not having rain at all.”
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