The steady rains that have fallen recently in San Joaquin County are beneficial for area reservoirs and most farmers, but asparagus growers are worried too much rain could make harvesting difficult in muddy fields.
California has teetered between deluge and drought the past several years. This El Niño year, like the previous one in 2005, is shaping up to be generous with rain and snowfall. Locally, Lodi is receiving more precipitation in recent months than it has since 2005. Clear skies are expected today, but more showers are expected Friday and through the weekend.
As rain continues to fall, Pardee and Camanche reservoirs are gulping up the precipitation, and more is expected this week. While the rain is good news for local cherry and almond orchards, asparagus farmers are in a tentative position. Too much rain can turn fields to mud and make harvesting with tractors difficult.
Instead of parched reservoirs and minimal snowpack, like the past few years, 2010 looks like it's going to be a wet one, according to Charles Hardy, senior public affairs representative for East Bay Municipal Utility District.
As recently as 2008, Camanche was around a third of its capacity. Now it is at 73 percent, exactly where it should be this time of year, he said.
"You don't want Camanche at 85 or 90 percent capacity this time of year," he said.
A dam that is full too early in the year leaves no wiggle room if big storms hit and bring additional water.
Pardee Reservoir is at 83 percent capacity and 93 percent of its average storage.
"It represents how much better off we are," said Hardy.
One weather expert said, this year's rainfall has been the best in years.
"We're better off now for first time since 2005," said Ken Clark, West Coast forecaster for AccuWeather, a private forecasting service.
"We're right around 99 percent of normal," Clark said. "We're doing very well."
While most growers are not concerned with the recent weather, others worry about sloppy conditions in their fields making it difficult to get their tractors through.
One general rule of farming when it comes to rain is that it's good for one grower but bad for another. While cherry and almond growers locally see no problem with a little rain, it's complicating life for asparagus farmers.
While the rain poses no threat to the quality of the crop itself, it can make the fields muddy and inaccessible for tractors, said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director California Asparagus Commission.
Reservoir water levelsPardee Reservoir: 83 percent of capacity — 93 percent of average storage
Camanche Reservoir: 73 percent capacity — 103 percent of storage average
Mokelumne River: 76 percent of average precipitation — 24.68 inches of rain to date.
Snowpack at Caples Lake: 84 percent of average, 64 inches depth water content — 102 percent of average
Measurements through Midnight, Feb. 23.
Doing equal — if not more — damage is the plummeting price of asparagus. Angulo said if farmers harvest and pack the produce right now, they will do so at a loss. However, if they don't get into the fields and at least cut the growth back, they risk having the crop turn to fern and they miss out on harvesting it altogether.
Asparagus is a perennial plant, one that blooms yearly, and its harvest season lasts 90 days. It's not a crop growers can start and stop harvesting, Angulo said.
However, each grower's window for making a decision on when to enter the field to harvest is different due to the various soil, drainage and temperature conditions throughout the Delta, she said.
Even though it's cloudy and gray in the fields, cherry and almond representatives have a sunny disposition.
Since local cherry orchards aren't blooming yet, the rain isn't a source of concern, said Jim Culbertson, executive manager of the Cherry Advisory Board. He said the rain Lodi is receiving would be troublesome in Southern California since cherries bloom earlier there due to the warmer climate. Lodi's cherries should start blooming around March 15 to March 20, Culbertson said.
Almonds are doing well because sunny days in recent weeks enabled bees to pollinate the flowers and kick the season off right, said Bob Curtis, associate director of agricultural affairs for the Almond Board of California.
Sunny skies, calm winds and balmy temperatures are ideal for almond growing, but the gloomy weather isn't about to ruin the crop.
"We'll have an ample crop," said Curtis. "It may not be a record, but it will be ample."
There are still plenty of opportunities for pollination, said Curtis, even on overcast days like Wednesday. He cited nature's intricate connection between bees and almond trees as the reason the rain and clouds aren't something to fret over.
Curtis, who lives in Sacramento, said even the wild almond orchards around his home that are untouched by growers are blossoming as they should.
"Bees and almonds have co-existed and co-evolved over the years," he said.
Life isn't as rosy for asparagus farmers.
"By nature, asparagus farmers are very optimistic," said Angulo. "They're becoming more realistic."