Stanislaus County agriculture comes alive in April with almost all perennial crops coming out of winter and spring dormancy. Grapes usually are one of the last to emerge with the green tissue you see bust out and grow with vigor. Soon you will see forage crops being harvested and you can tell by seeing big choppers blowing chopped material into a truck traveling alongside. Most of this will be going to dairy animals for feed. This is the first sign of what will be a long harvest season with our 250 different crops grown in Stanislaus County through the end of November.
The almond crop at this point looks very strong. However with late spring rains, you might see growers out spraying their fields with fungicides to protect the almonds and the leaves from disease. A disease at this stage of growth may make the trees weak. A weakened tree may abort the nuts, leading to a much smaller crop set along with leaving the tree open to more problems for the following summer. This then makes the almond tree susceptible to other pests such as Spider Mites, Navel Orange Worm and Peach Twig Borer. These trees are made to produce nuts. A tree without nuts becomes nothing more than a large shade tree that still costs money to protect and still uses water to stay green.
The walnut crop is still too early to see what it might bear at this point. You might see walnut growers doing the same as almond growers at this point fighting disease and pest problems. Peaches have bloomed with their pink blossoms and cherries will have their white blossoms. Cherries are one of the fastest growing fruit from bloom to harvest. Most of California will be harvesting in May. Cherry growers want a dry time leading up to harvest because rains during the growth stage lead to “split pits.” While the quality is still good, the cosmetic appearance is not how the consumer envisions a cherry. Therefore, buyers and exporters pay far less for a perfectly good piece of fruit.
Now for a little water talk. While many of our dams in the Sierra provide for irrigation, their greatest purpose is flood control. We wish we had to use them for flood control this year!
When you think about it dams provide the public with a long list of advantages. During the winter months, New Melones provides flood protection to all of the people and homes along the Stanislaus River. Stanislaus River water also nurtures and provides habitat for multiple species of fish, mammals and aquatic life throughout the river basin. When you turn your lights on, let’s not forget New Melones and the entire Tri-Dam Project and the cheapest form of renewable energy available to the consumer – falling water – hydropower. And last but not least, all of the crops we talk about from month to month are irrigated from the canals that crisscross Stanislaus County. So, New Melones water also leads to food production that is grown locally and consumed around the world. Water leads to jobs and that multiplier effect that agriculture has on the community. The $3.1 billion in farm gate revenue leads to nearly $11 billion in our local economy.
One forgotten and overlooked use of that water that is vitally important is that flood irrigation eventually reaches the groundwater table. We call that recharge. Dr. Vance Kennedy, a retired Hydrologist from the US Geological Survey, speaks often of the irreplaceable Hanford Clay Loam soils surrounding Modesto and along our river corridors. Something to think about those soils can’t percolate very well with houses and pavement on top of them.
I almost forgot to add those of you readers that like to jet ski, water ski, fish and sail. New Melones water also provides multiple opportunities for recreation whether it is on New Melones Reservoir or Lake Tulloch, on the Stanislaus River or in the Delta – water for fun has to come from somewhere.
So what does New Melones provide? Water for people; water for food; water for environmental habitat; water for recreation; water for power; water for groundwater recharge and water for flood control. I imagine you can think of many more. Feel blessed, because only a few miles away you can have the same benefits on the Tuolumne River due to Don Pedro Dam. So when we divide up the water on our rivers, remember that it is used for much more than one or two reasons. We literally recycle it for many uses.
Thanks for reading and we look forward to next time. Remember to support your local farmers and the products grown here because Farmers Feed Families. It really does make a difference in your daily life.
Stanislaus County Agriculture See It! Feel It! Taste It!
Tom Orvis is the Governmental Affairs Director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. He contributes regular columns as part of the Bureau’s informational outreach efforts.