13 Apr What Do Farmers Do All Winter?
By Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN. Originally published by US News & World Report
Wouldn’t it be nice to take an entire season off work? Perhaps, but don’t expect farmers to be the ones to tell you what that’s like. Whether or not their crops are in peak season, farmers work tirelessly throughout the year to ensure you’re getting the highest quality food possible.
I know because, as a registered dietitian who has been writing about food and nutrition for 10 years, one of my top priorities has become learning firsthand on how food in our country is grown. To date, I have visited over 20 farms growing a variety of crops including lemons, peanuts, almonds, cherries, tomatoes, strawberries and grapes. I have listened to farmers’ stories about how they wake up at all hours to ensure their food survives rough weather conditions such as drought and frost. Here are four of their stories I recruited through email and, in the case of the almond farmer, an in-person interview while on a sponsored trip:
“The most important things we do on the cranberry marsh in the winter are making ice and sanding. When we get a long enough stretch of very cold days, we flood the cranberry beds with water to form ice that will coat the vines and keep them protected while they lie dormant. When the ice conditions are favorable into February, we spread a layer of sand on some of the beds (about one-third of our marsh each year). In the spring, the sand will settle over the vines and cover up any roots that may have been exposed during harvest. If we have a renovation project planned, winter is the time we would haul the sand onto the bed and prep for vine planting in the spring.”
– Fawn Gottschalk, fifth generation cranberry grower at Gottschalk Cranberry Inc. in Wisconsin and member of the Cranberry Institute’s board of directors
“As a grower of Blue Diamond almonds on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, there is always something to do. After harvest, we immediately start preparing for next year’s crop. Fertilizers are applied through the irrigation system to ready the tree for next year. Pruning is then started with the intent on training the younger trees and removing problem limbs on the older trees. After the first rain, almond farmers start removing mummies (nuts that would not fall out of the tree). Naval orange worms (a serious pest in almond orchards) can grow over winter in these mummies. Almond farmers remove mummies using their mechanical shakers and then mow them up after they fall on the ground.
“Bloom in almonds occurs mid-February to mid-March. While California has a temperate climate, frost and damage to the bloom and young almonds is a real possibility. Irrigation water is run on cold nights to try to warm up the orchards, and helicopters may also be used to push warmer air down into the orchards if there is an inversion (warm air aloft). Getting up at 4 in the morning to record temperatures and knowing that your crop is at risk is a very sobering way to start the morning, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
– Michael Doherty, fourth generation Californian and owner of Chamisal Creek Ranch LLC
“I am a fifth generation citrus grower, so farming is in my blood. We grow many varieties of citrus that come in season during different times of the year, so we are constantly caring for our trees in different ways. Right now, we’re in the middle of peak citrus season, when most citrus in California is harvested, including varieties like cara cara navel oranges, Meyer lemons and blood oranges.”
“Citrus fruit is harvested by hand, so that means there are thousands of footprints through the groves that tend to break irrigation. After the harvest, we go through the groves and carefully check and maintain our irrigation systems to make sure that each tree gets the correct amount of water.”
“Pest management is also important. We do highly targeted pest management to minimize chemical use and also make sure that we are keeping the good insects healthy, as they help support the whole ecosystem. In cold weather, we protect fruit with water and wind machines.”
– Gary Laux from Porterville, California
“While POM Wonderful’s pomegranate season lasts only from October to January, our pomegranate farmers maintain a busy schedule throughout the year to grow our ruby red arils. After harvest has completed, we tend our 9,000 acres. The trees are pruned, the orchard is cleaned up, soil is tested, trees are topped for accurate height and the ground is prepped. These key actions help prepare the orchards for leaf out (signaling the start of the growing period) starting in late February and leading to our critical bloom period from April to June.”
– Bernard Puget, vice president of farming operations at POM Wonderful