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Storms, Hail, And Record-Breaking Cold Temperatures: Stone Fruit Farmers Take The Hit

Nikiko Masumoto
Organic peaches on the Masumoto Family Farm after being hit with hail.

When Nikiko Masumoto was 9-years-old, she remembers hail pouring down on her family’s organic peach and nectarine farm. It was at the end of June, the peak of harvest.


“We lost 95 percent of our crop in a seven minute hail storm,” she said.


Now as an adult, Masumoto is reliving that experience. Last weekend, she watched from her kitchen “in horror” as hail pummeled down on the Masumoto Family Farm south of Fresno. This time the hail lasted 9 minutes, she said, and the farm was covered in small drops of ice.


Credit Nikiko Masumoto
Hail on the Masumoto Family Farm.

“Immediately after I went out to the fields and my heart was just broken,” Masumoto said. “Looking at our little tiny green peaches and nectarines, that aren’t quite yet ready for harvest, you can see in the fruit that was hit pockmarks and open wounds from the hail.”   


Hail and frequent showers are usually abnormal for the San Joaquin Valley in late May, and stone fruit farmers are taking the hit. More showers and hail is expected throughout the Valley this upcoming weekend, according to Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.


“It’s very unusual for this time of year,” Bollenbacher said.


So far, Masumoto estimates a 10 to 25 percent loss of stone fruit.


“In nine minutes, a whole year of work just disappears,” Masumoto said.


The combination of wind and hail has also wiped out some tomato and cotton stalk crops on the western side of Fresno County, said Ryan Jacobsen, the CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.


For peaches and nectarines hail is a lot more damaging than rain, he said, but the constant showers at this time of year can destroy cherries.


“What it does is make the cherry split and makes it unmarketable at that point,” Jacobsen said. “The San Joaquin Valley is the food capital of the nation for one particular reason: we can grow things here that just truly can’t be grown in other parts of the country because of our very long dry growing season.”


This year was supposed to be a record year for cherries, according to Ian Lemay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. But, the recent rain came at the peak of harvesting ruining some crops.


Credit Nikiko Masumoto
Organic peaches on the Masumoto Family Farm after being hit with hail.

The recent cold temperatures are also a threat to stone fruit, Lemay said. The cooler it is the slower fruit ripens, he said, which can result in all the fruit ripening at the same time versus in stages.


“They [the fruit] start piling up so it all has to be picked at the same time,” Lemay says.


Bakersfield saw the coldest high temperatures ever recorded for this time of year, 66 degrees, on Wednesday, Bollenbacher said. Fresno was 67 degrees, tying its record cold temperature for May.


But, according to Bollenbacher, more record cold temperatures are expected to be broken this weekend.


It’s too soon to tally up the damage, Jacobsen said, but if the showers keep up, more crops will be damaged.

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.