(Jan. 8) A series of winter storms took dead aim on much of northern California Jan. 4-6, but grower-shippers in central and Southern California got little more than free irrigation. The shipping of fresh produce to retailers and foodservice continued without interruption.

“We hardly got any rain,” said Lou Harmon, a salesman at distributor Billingsley Produce Sales, Inc., Bakersfield, Calif. “What rain we got was spotty.”

There could be a day’s delay in the shipping of some vegetables that the company gets from coastal growers, Harmon said, as the fields dry out.

It was a similar picture at Bakersfield-based carrot giant Grimmway Farms. The winds that followed the rain helped to dry out the fields, said Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing. There was no interruption in planting or harvesting, he said.

The rain was heavier further south.

“It might be called the perfect storm,” said Guy Whitney, director of industry affairs for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine. “The orchards received anywhere from 1.5 inches to 5 inches of rain.”

The rain came just in time because most avocado growers had planned to irrigate in early January. Best of all, Whitney said, there were no high winds that could have scarred the fruit. The harvest will be in full swing by early February, he said.

Those potentially scarring winds were all but nonexistent in the citrus-growing regions of the San Joaquin Valley, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter. In some cases, crews harvesting navels may have had to wait a couple of hours to make certain the soil was dry enough to get in the groves, he said, but packing and shipping were not slowed.

The storm came at a good time, too, for the California asparagus crop.

“This is the time of year when growers in the delta and along the coast usually have to irrigate,” said Cherie Watte Angulo, executive director of the California Asparagus Commission, Stockton.

Those growers will not begin harvesting asparagus until mid-February, she said.

The smaller Imperial Valley asparagus crop is currently being harvested. The desert area received very little rain, Angulo said, and the harvest continued without interruption.

SALINAS AREA UNAFFECTED

Dire predictions of flooding and hurricane-force winds for California had little if any impact on Salinas Valley and the Oxnard area growers.

“There wasn’t much in the ground around Salinas and there weren’t any problems down around Oxnard,” said John Baillie, owner of Baillie Family Farms/Tri-Counties Packing Co., Spreckels. “They had quite a bit of rain over the weekend, and we had the winds, but driving around the ranches here I didn’t see any damage.”

He said the rains have filled the Salinas River.

“I always smile when I see water in the river because that means the hills are filled,” he said. “I’m waiting for word to see how it affected the water supply.”

While the weather service was predicting up to 10 inches of rain for the coastal area, Salinas received only 1.73 inches through Jan. 6. The storm, the biggest in a decade, did considerable damage to power lines, knocking out electricity to 2 million homes and businesses, but had virtually no effect on growing operations mainly because most of it is now in Southern California or Yuma, Ariz.

“Down south the season is starting a little late, so we’re looking at little to no damage because there wasn’t a whole lot of exposed, hanging berries,” said Craig Moriyama, vice president for strawberry sales for the Salinas branch of Naturipe Berry Farms LLC. “One time they were talking about 2-4 inches and most of my guys are reporting only an inch and a half from Oxnard down to Orange County.”