While it’s true weather has always been unpredictable, the last few years have proven this is now a vast understatement—with devastating weather events seeming to be the new normal.
“If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that the weather will do what it wants—which can have big consequences for berries,” says Jim Roberts, president of sales for Naturipe Farms, LLC, BB #:116078 in Salinas, CA.
“We were fortunate to have excellent crops despite the weather,” he adds, “but going forward we’re expecting to continue adapting our growing, harvesting, and packaging practices to accommodate atypical weather patterns.”
“Climate change is already shifting the way the industry operates,” says Darby McGrath, vice president of research and development at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Vineland Station, ON, “which means producers and the R&D community are trying to navigate through changes in weather patterns, temperatures, etc.”
Tammy Collum, in sales for Vanguard Direct, LLC BB #:338552 of Bakersfield, CA, agrees. “Hurricane Hilary hit the California Coast with serious rainfall and some winds, and this hurt the California grape growers tremendously this summer.”
The issues led to a reduction of 30 to 40 percent in the anticipated harvest, bringing projected California volumes to 1994 levels and causing the season to end early, leaving gaps before Southern Hemisphere providers could begin harvesting and delivering to U.S. retailers.
Meanwhile, northern Peru had hotter-than-average weather, affecting the quality and size of fruit, Collum reports, and a reduction of 25 to 30 percent in yields in some areas compared to the previous season.
Fortunately, breeders are hard at work on varieties with improved flavor, appearance, and yields, which are also sustainably grown and can help fill seasonal gaps, like new early-season red grapes.
Collum says Vanguard Direct expects to begin planting some of these new varieties in Ica, southern Peru, in the near future.
One way to exert a measure of control over weather is protected and indoor growing.
“Vertical farming, despite some of the drawbacks and bankruptcies, doesn’t rely on seasonality, provides more protection from environmental threats, and with potential sustainability benefits, seems like it will continue to positively evolve in the next year,” says Brian Numainville, principal at The Feedback Group in Lake Success, NY.
Even with challenges, he sees it as a necessary solution “to offset environmental and other challenges to traditional growing.”
Phil Lempert, the Los Angeles, CA-based Supermarket Guru, agrees. “We’re seeing much more activity in the vertical space and in indoor growing in general. I like it because it attracts new, younger farmers to farming, due to the technology.”
McGrath, however, has concerns. “Infrastructure shortages threaten the potential expansion of the horticultural sector. The greenhouse industry in Canada is expanding; in Ontario, more specifically in the Windsor-Essex region, the greenhouse sector has high power demands, which are expected to exceed the capacity of the current systems.
“To grow more food ‘under glass’ in Canada—which is a likely imperative with climate change—expanding the capacity is necessary and needs to move quickly. But there are some regulatory and infrastructure hurdles in the way.”
This is an excerpt from the feature story from the January/February 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.