For our April 13 follow-up coverage on crop damage from the hail storm see "Crop loss heavy in California hail storm."

Hail pummels California fruit(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 12) An April 11 hailstorm seems certain to put a dent in California stone fruit production.

“One of our field men said it’s the worst hail he’s ever seen,” said John Thiesen, division manager for Giumarra Bros. Fruit Co. in Reedley, Calif. “It’s literally stripping leaves off the tree.”

The storm cut a swath through Hanford, Traver and Kingsburg, hitting some orchards and sparing others. Grower-shippers said assessing the effects will take time.

“This could change everybody’s numbers in our industry,” Thiesen said April 11. “There will be losses. The hail cannons have been unbelievable here in the last few hours.”

Giumarra had anticipated a 32% increase in stone fruit volume, but storm damage may change that estimate. Peach production in the area typically starts mid- to late-May.

“We think it could be a game changer, but we’re holding back til we get more information,” said Mark Grijalva, sales representative at Reedley-based Mountain View Fruit Sales Inc. “It will take a few days to see what’s happened, but there will be some issues.”

The storm reached from southern Kingsburg to Visalia, Grijalva said, with Traver taking the hardest hit.

Hail pummels California fruit“It was a war zone today with all the hail cannons going off, six or eight at a time,” Grijalva said. “It’s depressing to think about. There was hail the size of nickels an inch deep. It had to shred some trees. Stone fruit is affected for sure. I don’t know about grapes, but it could have easily taken off the new vines.”

Hail cannons are shock wave generators intended to disrupt hailstone formation in the atmosphere. Their effectiveness and noise have been fodder for disputes.

“In a week we’ll see if someone says, ‘My orchard is toast,’” Grijalva said. “But we haven’t heard anything like that yet.”

Harold McClarty, owner of Kingsburg, Calif.-based HMC Farms, said rain is forecast for the weekend.

“Anytime there’s rain in spring, there’s a chance of hail,” McClarty said. “We’re never out of the woods til it’s dry. Monday’s going to be the best time to evaluate it.”

Whatever the extent of damage, it covered a lot of ground.

“It was a significant storm and anything in its path was affected,” McClarty said. “Stonefruit, grapes, berries — whatever was there.”

In Kingsburg, hail cannons went off within earshot of the offices of Kingsburg Orchards.

“The hail started all of a sudden,” said Jillian Diepersloot, special projects coordinator at Kingsburg Orchards. “It’s still raining. It will take a few days after the hail to evaluate and see which fields were affected.”

Mike Reimer, sales director at Reedley-based Brandt Farms, said the storm followed no clear pattern.

“There were places hit very hard and others not touched at all,” Reimer said. “There was no hail where we are in Reedley. But in other areas it was the largest amount of hail I’ve ever seen.”

“The industry needs a little time to fill in what happened here and assess it,” he said. “For a lot of guys it’s a sensitive deal. It’s their livelihoods.”

Check back with The Packer later for updates on this story.