Production Outlook for the 2021 Growing Season
The 2021 growing season in Northern California has been dominated by issues surrounding water and the lack thereof. There isn’t one crop that hasn’t been impacted by the current drought conditions, and each crop is unique in its response to the lack of water availability. The Technical Services team at Grow West® is working closely with PCAs and growers on drought management strategies. Following are some crop-specific updates.
Reduced Acres in Rice
2021 marks the second year of rice acreage reductions, which is just one of the impacts of not having adequate winter rainfall the past two years. Some sources estimate that more than 30% of the potential area was not farmed due to a lack of available water. Less overall water availability has also impacted the areas that are being farmed in rice, making it more difficult to maintain proper water depth, slowing the process of flooding or re-flooding fields, and lessening the quality of water used.
Poor water quality in rice can have many impacts on the crop, from limiting nutrient uptake to negative interactions with applied inputs. This rice growing season has required many management decisions, making cooperation between PCAs and growers more important than ever. Hopefully, the crop price reflects the supply situation and compensates for the extraordinary efforts this year.
Perennial Crop Stresses
The low 2020 winter rainfall totals are also impacting our perennial crops as many of them entered the growing season with substantially depleted soil moisture levels. In some cases, this seems to have led to an increase in late fall/early winter, and even early spring, cold damage to limbs, twigs, scaffolds and even whole trees or vines. Low soil moisture reserves required earlier irrigation start times than usual and may end up resulting in an overall earlier start to harvest.
Low soil moisture often leads to added stress for perennial crops, particularly when they are faced with the occasional heat spikes that summer brings. We have found there to be a benefit in the use of various biosolution materials, from seaweed or algae extracts, bacterial fermentation products, plant hydrolosate materials, kaolin clay materials and others, in aiding plant physiology in coping with heat stress. Often managing this stress results in better overall plant health, which leads to higher quality production and even incremental increases in crop size.
With respect to pest pressures, low winter rainfall and fairly mild temperatures usually results in less overall fungal and bacterial pathogen incidence, while often increasing insect and mite populations. Indications are exactly this for 2021. Walnut blight was exceptionally low and early season almond diseases were practically non-existent in many cases. Insect pheromone trap catches for Codling Moth and Navel Orangeworm have increased substantially in many areas this year, while some orchards have had to contend with heavy mite pressure much earlier than usual. We are paying close attention to these situations as the last insect and mite generation timings approach.
Wildfire Threats in Wine Grapes
Low winter rainfall has impacted Northern California wine grape production as well, with many growing areas in the coastal regions facing severe reductions in water availability. This has required difficult management decisions particularly regarding ‘fire season’ and how to deal with what may happen as many of the surrounding forest and grasslands are filled with dry ‘fuel’. Using an allotment of water early may deplete the ability to use it later when the possibility of wildfires increases.
Overall, as many have said, California agriculture continues to be unique and complex in the challenges we face year in and year out. This year is clearly no different. With harvest season approaching, maximizing production is top of mind. And, even as we navigate the current drought conditions, know that we are working alongside you to help make the best management decisions for this year and for years to come. We’ll get through this together.