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IN SEASON

A Bumper Crop of Woes

June 24, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

California farmers must feel like the ancient Egyptians this year, considering the parade of plagues that has been visited upon them.

Rain has been constant, as have cool temperatures, which have delayed ripening of some fruit by three weeks or more.

The latest scourge? Hailstorms, which hopscotched through the Central Valley last week, destroying sections of orchards.

Farther north, there were windstorms. Gusts topping 40 mph tore through the northern part of the valley, stripping ripening pears in the Sacramento delta area, uprooting almond trees, and damaging apricots and plums.

The thing with hail and wind is that the damage tends to be limited to specific areas. After a hailstorm blows through, you can see the storm's path clearly. On one side, healthy fields; on the other, damage that looks like a war zone.

That means the area may not be affected much in terms of acreage, but to the farmers hit by the storms, it is devastating.

"We had a swath east of Dinuba that was about a mile wide and about six miles long where the storm went through," says Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner Leonard Craft, who says county farmers suffered $10 million in damage from the storm. "The damage was pretty extensive in that area. Some blocks lost 50% of their fruit; some lost up to 80%."

Cosmo Insalaco, agricultural commissioner for Fresno County, says his farmers have suffered about $17 million in damages so far this year. Of course, that's not much out of a total county agricultural product of $3.4 billion--unless you happen to be one of the ones who sustained damage.

The picture is much the same through the rest of the San Joaquin Valley. In San Joaquin County, Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson says it's still too early to put a price on it.

"Many effects of this spring are still ongoing," he says. "We've had blight in tomatoes and walnuts, delayed planting in our tomato and rice crops, of course our cherry crop was devastated by spring rains, and early on, the asparagus crop was affected by cold wet weather. We won't know how it will all wind up until August or September."

Around Modesto, Stanislaus County agricultural Commissioner Donald Cripe puts losses to his farmers at around $30 million. "There wasn't any one big thing here," he says. "It was a long, cold, wet spring. Pollination wasn't good. People couldn't get into their fields to plant. Everyone had increased disease problems. It was just not a good growing situation."

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