August is peak season for the harvest of many of Merced County’s crops, like grapes, almonds and watermelon.
Crews of farmworkers can often be seen from the highway as they gather the agricultural haul. One crew worked along Highway 140 this week, sweat dripping from their brows as they passed watermelons in a bucket-brigade fashion.
Maxwell Norton, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser, said the warm spring has led to many crops being ready for the picking early. “Almost everything is early this year,” he said.
Watermelons, honeydews and other melons (except cantaloupes) are grown on about 1,000 acres of farmland in the county, and are worth about $12.3 million, according to the 2012 Merced County Report on Agriculture, the latest numbers available.
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Dave Robinson, agriculture commissioner for the county, said the melon crop is relatively small compared with about 4,000 acres of cantaloupes or even 100,000 acres of almonds in the county.
With the exception of a few crops, such as sweet potatoes or cotton, crews are at work plucking the edible parts of many plants. “We are fully coming into harvest on just about everything,” Robinson said.
The state’s drought has many growers that plant annual row crops, such as melons or cotton, leaving land fallow in anticipation of shrinking water resources later in the year. Permanent crops, such as almonds, are being harvested early for the same reason.
The full effect of one the driest years on record still isn’t completely clear. “We’re not going to have a really good idea as to the overall impact of this drought until next year when the surveys are conducted and the reporting completed,” Robinson said.
Harvesting continues for some growers in Merced County through late in the year, depending on which crop the farm grows.