California reservoirs are at above-average capacity despite the lack of rainfall

California processing tomato production is forecasted at 12 million tons. This forecast is down 100 thousand tons from last year’s January initial forecast of 12.1 million tons following a 2019 harvested crop of slightly under 11.2 million tons. The 2020 production is to come from an estimated 235 thousand acres, generating an average yield of 51.1 tons per acre.

Planting began in the second half of February in the early harvesting areas of the southern part of the growing region. Obtaining the seed required for the early transplanting has been difficult as a result of regulations requiring testing for viroids before tomato seed is shipped to California.

Temperatures have been running above normal, and the lack of rainfall has resurfaced the dreaded “d-word” (drought) into the California climate discussion. While the lack of rain facilitates an early planting window, the California Department of Water Resources reported that as of February 24, statewide water content in the Sierras was just 41% of the April 1 average with current Northern Sierra precipitation at about 51% of season average.

California is fortunate in that there was good wet weather and a significant snowpack in late 2019. The state’s reservoir levels are hovering above average.On February 25, the Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial 2020 water supply allocation for Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors of 15% of their contract supply and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors and San Joaquin Settlement Contractors 100% of supply. While 15% of contract supply for CVP contractors is not much, it at least gives growers an amount of water that they can expect. State Water Project users are also at 15% allocation. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) plans were filed by January 31 and are posted for review.

Drought years often bring high leafhopper counts in the hills along the valley, and they pose a threat of transmitting the curly top virus to the tomato plants as the hills dry down and the leafhoppers migrate into the valley. Leafhoppers carrying the virus transmit it to the tomato plant as they feed. While the State Curly Top Virus Control Program is aggressive, its control measures are still limited by environmental restrictions and property owners’ rights. Treatment has already begun. The last bad year for the curly top virus in California was 2013.

Labor in California agriculture continues to be a hot topic. With the beginning of 2020, minimum wage has increased by $1.00 per hour, and the hours worked prior to overtime being paid has been reduced by a half hour. Not only are costs increasing, but availability of farm labor continues to be a problem.

Despite the challenges facing the processing industry in California, the potential for a good year still remains with resilient growers and processors linked with a drought year that normally produces above average yields