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Heavy rains have local farmers more concerned

Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:38 am, Tue Mar 29, 2011.

Heavy rains have local farmers more concerned By Maggie Creamer
News-Sentinel Staff Writer Lodi News-Sentinel | 0 comments

In the past week, Lodi has received three times more rain than normal, causing everyone to pull out their rain coats and farmers to worry about how some of their crops are faring.

From March 18 through 4 p.m. Friday, the Stockton area received 1.8 inches of rain, said John Feerick, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting service. The average precipitation for that week is usually 0.55 inches.

According to News-Sentinel records, Lodi received even more rain — 3.30 inches during that time period.

Below is a summary of how this is affecting the Lodi area.

River flows: Pardee reservoir was spilling into an overflow area because it was at 101 percent of capacity for six days.

On Wednesday afternoon, the reservoir decreased to 100 percent capacity after the East Bay Municipal Utility District released water, said Charles Hardy, an EBMUD spokesman.

Camanche was also at 80 percent capacity. The district has been releasing water at 3,400 cubic feet per second from that reservoir.

Hardy said he is not worried about flooding if the rain continues, but is warning all residents that the river is very high and to take extra precautions.

It can be disappointing to have to release so much water to flow downstream, Hardy said.

"It's ironic, because we run into drought. We would have loved to have one-third of this water a couple years ago," he said.

Cherries: The weather could potentially damage or reduce the amount of this crop because cherries are in full bloom right now, said Bruce Fry, of Mohr-Fry Ranches.

One of the main concerns is that cherries need cross-pollination from one variety to another, but bees have been unable to fly in the wind and rain, and have been hiding in their hives because of the cold.

"When we have weather like we had, you don't get good pollination, so that means a smaller crop," he said.

Bees prefer temperatures at about 55 degrees for them to do work, so farmers are hoping dry weather is on the way, said Joe Valente, of Kautz Farms.

Another concern is blossom rot, because the water seeps into the blooms and increases the growth of fungus, Fry said. He expects the cherries will be a couple days later than last year.

Tom Gotelli, plant manager with O-G Packing, said he has no concerns with the Brooks and Tulare varieties of cherries that his company grows south of Madera to Bakersfield. But he is concerned about the Bing cherries growing in the Lodi area because of the pollination and rot issues.

Winegrapes: The grape season starts later, so the rain should not have much of an effect on this year's crop, Fry said. While most of the wine grapes have not started growing yet, farmers are starting to see leaves on Chardonnay, Fry said.

The grapes are at the bud stage of growth, said Amy Blagg, executive director of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association.

"Where we would have a concern is if we got freezing temps, but that doesn't look like it's forecasted in the near future," she said.

Almonds: Individual growers have lost trees because of the wind, but the losses are insignificant compared to the entire crop, said Dave Phippen, an almond farmer in Ripon.

Growers are concerned the rain could cause fungus on the leaves. Usually at this time, farmers would be out putting preventative sprays on the leaves to safeguard against any type of fungus and put nutrients on the buds.

"We'll probably go to church Sunday and then be out Monday spraying the crop," Phippen said.

Asparagus: The cold weather has significantly slowed the growth of asparagus, which is being harvested now, said Scott Hudson, the agriculture commissioner for San Joaquin County.

It helps that Easter is later this year, because that is a peak time for people to eat asparagus, he said.

The season is still early and usually goes through the first part of May, but has gone as late as June, Hudson said. He said growers are hoping for warmer weather to increase production.

Walnuts: The trees have not flowered yet because the season is always about five to six weeks behind almonds, said Dennis Balint, executive director and CEO at the California Walnut Board.

He has not heard any reports of significant damage from trees falling.

Olives: The trees are still coasting from winter, and there will not be much activity until later this spring, said Mike Coldani, of Coldani Olive Ranch. Olive trees are hearty, and he is not worried about damage from wind.

His only concern is any flooding in the Delta area because that could harm the trees if they are in standing water too long. They are watching the levees for flooding, but so far, nothing has happened.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.