Processing for the 2022 tomato crop has begun and the fourth week of harvest has been completed. The 2022 harvest is currently behind the 2021 harvest by a little over four hundred thousand tons. The last USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NAAS) intentions report showed an estimated 11.7 million tons were expected for California in 2022. As the California 2022 crop trails 2021, what conditions is the crop facing?
FIGURE 1 | Source: National Integrated Drought Information System
Most of the growing regions of California are still classified as being under extreme and exceptional drought. (See Figure 1) These conditions translate to lack of water and salt levels in soils higher than normal because water is not available to leach the salts below the root zone. Irrigation with ground water wells, with elevated salt levels, also contributes to the problem. These conditions negatively impact yields.
California reservoir levels continue to be below historical averages with the exception of one reservoir in Northern California, New Bullards Bar. (See Figure 2) These are bad conditions for 2022, but also create a situation for 2023, with rain and snow critically needed for the state.
On a positive note for water, pumping from both the Jones (Central Valley Project) and Banks (State Water Project) have been occurring, bringing some much-needed water, although small amounts, to areas south of the San Joaquin Delta. (See Figure 3)
There has been an increase of the Curly Top Virus in California, appearing in some non-traditional locations. The damage comes from the virus that the sugar beet leafhopper carries with it, not damage from the sugar beet leafhopper itself. In the past, most damage has occurred when the vegetation dries up in the foothills and the leafhoppers migrate to the valley. For 2022 the damage has been occurring well past the time of the vegetation drying down and still persists to high degrees, especially in areas where some fields were completely lost. A Special Meeting has been called by the Beet Curly Top Virus Control Board to address this matter on August 11.
There has also been a fair amount of spotted wilt observed in the crop. Spotted wilt is transmitted by thrips. While spotted wilt resistance has been bred into certain varieties, there is a new strain that has broken through. Increased planting of almond trees contributes to the increase in thrip populations, because thrips are welcomed in almond plantings to slow down the mite pressure. As cropping patterns change in California, so must the strategy for pest control.
California processing tomato growers have proven that they can survive challenges and will be tested once again for the 2022 season.