The warmest winter since 1907 in south-central Texas has left its peach crop with inadequate chill hours this year, reported Lynn Brezosky in the San Antonio Express-News.
Without sufficient chill hours over the winter, the buds didn't get the re-boot they need to bloom in proper synchrony, which is important for blossoms to set fruit. The leaves have also been slow to emerge. "The trees look like it's still winter," said Jim Kamas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extenson horticulturalist.
“The lack of chill hours is a big deal,” said Larry Stein, extension horticulturalist with AgriLife Research & Extension Center.
The Texas trouble combined with a cold blast that destroyed half the crop in Georgia and North Carolina this spring mean peaches are likely to be in short supply this year.
The sweet spot, Brezosky wrote, may be California, the No. 1 peach producer in the nation. Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension pomology adviser, could think of no major problems affecting the southern part of the state's fresh market peach crop.
“I think in general it's probably going to be just fine,” he said.
"That smaller peach this year very likely is sweeter than the moderate-sized peach of last year," said Kevin Day, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director in Tulare and Kings counties.
Most of the change in fruit size can be attributed to the drought. When irrigation is limited, water content of the fruit diminishes and sugars become a greater proportion of the fruit mass. However, Day says drought isn't the only reason for 2015's smaller fruit size. California also had unusually warm temperatures in January and February 2015, causing fruit to ripen faster.
"A variety that might ripen after 120 days of being on a tree in a year like this ripens in only 110," Day said. "And, so it's consequently shortchanged out of 10 days of growing."
The idea is keeping the fruit trees short so ladders won't be necessary for harvest and other orchard operations, while at the same time maintaining excellent yield and fruit quality.
Day talked to the KSEE news crew in a peach and nectarine orchard at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
"This is good news for farmers and farmworkers," said reporter Theresa Sardina. "This means safer working conditions for workers and less money out of farmers' pockets."
Day said the researchers are trying to better understand the labor savings aspect of small fruit trees, but he believes they will be proven to be significantly more cost effective.
"You can save a minimum of 25 if not up to 50 percent on any particular labor operations," Day said.
The lead agricultural technician at Kearney, Rudolfo Cisneros, was also interviewed for the story.
See the video on the KSEE Channel 24 website./span>
Many environmental factors can significantly compromise a peach harvest, said Maxwell Norton, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County.
"For tree fruit you need to have a greater net profit than you do raising tree nuts because growing tree fruit is so much more risky," he said. "The biggest risk of all is not being able to find enough labor during harvest. Peaches, when they're ripe, you have very few days to harvest."
In the Northern San Joaquin Valley, including Merced and Stanislaus counties, about 8.2 percent of bearing acres for clingstone peaches, or 667 acres, have been pulled out of production this fall, the article said.
Because trees are being pulled out, processors are beginning to increase the price they are offering.
Delhi farmer Glenn Arnold said he's clinging to peaches for now.
"I was happy when I heard the price because it's a fair price," he said. "A hail storm can take your whole crop in two minutes. If you don't get compensated adequately for the risk, you might switch to an alternative."
- Author: Brenda Dawson
An article by Ching Lee in today's Ag Alert focused on the effects of budget cuts on agricultural student programs at California universities. "Budget cuts have had a profound effect on all areas of the campus," Diane Ullman, associate dean for undergraduate academic programs at UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, told the reporter. She explained the college faces challenges keeping agricultural production facilities, instructional equipment and technologies updated to deliver hands-on education — even though the office has seen student applications increase by 70–80 percent.
Tom Baldwin, dean of UC Riverside College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, also commented on the challenges of serving students in the face of diminishing resources, saying the university is "moving heaven and earth" to do so.
The cuts are being felt at on-campus farms as well. Raoul Adamchak, of the UC Davis Student Farm, explained that the market garden generates its own income and provides a lesson to students on self-sustaining businesses. "Things cost money, and these are part of the expenses of farming, so it has to be factored in. They have to make decisions based on the cost of things and the returns," he said.
Peach association to major retailer: Buy U.S.-grown
Christine Souza, Ag Alert
The California Canning Peach Association has asked Target to consider California fruit for its Market Pantry-brand canned peaches, which are currently a product of China. Wal-Mart carries a comparable product made from California cling peaches, with a lower retail price.
Reporter Christine Souza sought expert commentary from Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension marketing specialist at the Davis campus, on the current market for California cling peaches. "When you are talking about processed items, if another country can produce it a lot cheaper than you, then you will be vulnerable to competition. And consumer preferences have moved towards fresh. So [California cling-peach businesses] are hit by both factors," she told the reporter.
Related ANR News Blog post: Chinese farmers take a bite out of the California cling-peach market