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Posted on Mar 31, 2017

Cool, wet weather delays season’s start for local growers

Every year is different in agriculture, and this one has already been affected by a long, cold, wet winter delaying work in fields, orchards and vineyards.
While some in the southern end of the Columbia Basin have started operations, some growers in the north are still looking at wet conditions, especially with more rain this week.
Gary Chastain, the store manager at Washington Tractor in Quincy, said the long winter will back up everybody 20 to 30 days. His hope for the year? If it warms up soon, it should be a good year with good production across the board – for row crop farmers, orchard farmers as well as hay farmers.
Leo Garcia, the lead faculty for tree fruit, viticulture and Hispanic orchard employee education programs at Wenatchee Valley College, said the weather “hasn’t been very cooperative.”
“Some of the pruning has been a little bit delayed – they are catching up,” Garcia said. “Things are set back … we are going to be later than last year’s bloom.”
But nature has a way of evening things up, he said.
Larry Schaapman, a local row crop farmer, agreed that the weather can warm up quickly, which means that, while there is going to be some setback, it is still possible to rebound.
“In the row crop world, if it’s warm enough and dry enough … you can have some serious catchup,” Schaapman said.
On Friday, he said, ground temperatures were not anywhere near where they need to be to plant, let alone get a tractor on a field.
“We are a couple of weeks away from planting some potatoes,” Schaapman said. “If it warms up, it can be OK for us.”
Overall, he said he expects it to be a slimmer year, because prices have been down, and there’s going to be some weather that plays in the market during the next few weeks.
As usual, growers have to be patient and flexible.
Tyler Musson, marketing manager with Washington Tractor, likewise said he is seeing that growers can’t get in the fields.
“With as much snow as we had and as quickly as it all melted, that makes for really wet ground, which just makes a mess with big machinery,” Musson said.
One concern he has is for cherries, if the trees bloom and then temperatures drop, but his overall outlook for the season is positive.
“I believe there is more optimism now in agriculture and commodities than six months ago,” Musson said.
Brianna Shales, communications manager with Stemilt Growers LLC, which has a large presence in the Quincy Valley, said the long winter was great for getting adequate chill hours for trees.
“We rarely worry about getting adequate hours in Central Washington,” Shales said in an email.
The long winter will also mean good snowpack for water reserves this summer. It means pruning is later than normal, and it means that bloom will be later than last year, which was record early, she said.
An overall forecast?
“It’s too early to tell until we bloom. That is when the crop realities take shape,” Shales said.

By Dave Burgess,

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