Growers happy July's heat wave has eased

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comAugust 19, 2013 

— After a hot spell that had some farmers on edge in July, August's more moderate temperatures are more to many growers' liking.

"This August weather is just about perfect growing weather for pretty much everything we grow here in Merced County," said Dave Robinson, agriculture commissioner for the county. "You've got temperatures below 100 degrees; you've got nights in the 60s."

Robinson said temperatures below 100 put less stress on plants and mean growers may be able to save water. July's hotter weather, however, wasn't as kind.

"It has been a very dry year, and water availability is tight this year," Robinson said.

This is harvest time for many area farmers, with tomatoes, cantaloupe, almonds, cotton and many other products ready or close to ready for the picking.

Maxwell Norton, a University of California Cooperative Extension adviser, said prolonged high temperatures can affect stone fruit such as peaches and apricots. If growers don't have enough water to counteract the heat, he said, the fruit will be smaller.

"We've been concerned about fruit sizes, and peaches, all season long because the spring was warm," Norton said. "Warm springs can mean small fruit sizes in peaches and other stone fruits."

To counteract that heat, stone fruit growers thinned orchards heavily, Norton said.

Stone fruit is graded by size, so smaller fruit gets a lower grade and is worth less.

For grape growers, now is when the fruit is getting its color. Merced County primarily grows wine grapes, not table grapes or raisins.

The grapes are dependent on water. Heat and wind are the main drivers for how much water is necessary in growing plants.

The Merced Irrigation District has not seen a significant change in water usage because of the cool August weather compared with other years, said Bryan Kelly, the MID's deputy general manager of water resources.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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