(July 28) A heat wave that continued to scorch the West Coast the last week of July damaged some crops and forced some grower-shippers to get creative with labor but did little serious harm, grower-shippers and industry officials said.

Highs in Fresno, Calif., hit 110 several days in a row in the fourth week of July, said Clint Lucas, salesman for RJO Produce Marketing, Fresno.

“It’s just been a crazy couple of weeks,” he said. “Guys are saying they haven’t seen a year like this in a long time.”

RJO’s grape and cantaloupe crops have been hurt by the heat, Lucas said.

The company’s flame grapes have suffered some sunburn damage, he said, with blond shoulders showing on some fruit. Sunburn doesn’t affect taste, Lucas said, but retailers prefer to sell product with uniform coloring. Still, he said the heat shouldn’t have too much effect on volumes and demand.

MELONS

The heat has done more substantive damage to RJO’s cantaloupe crop, Lucas said. High temperatures have damaged blossoms on a significant number of fruit, he said, which has subsequently affected markets.

“The market has tightened, and f.o.b.s are up,” he said.

On July 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $6.95-7.85 for half cartons of 9s and $7.45-7.85 for 12s from the San Joaquin Valley, up from $4.85-5.35 and $3.85-4.35, respectively, at the same time last year.

Quality on melons that are shippable has been good, Lucas said, though some fruit is softer than normal.

TREE FRUIT

RJO’s peach, nectarine and plum crops have been largely immune to the heat, Lucas said.

“The quality has held up OK on the tree fruit,” he said.

The heat has pushed back some of the company’s stone fruit deals even more than the seven to 14 days they were already delayed because of California’s wet, cool spring, Lucas said.

CHERRIES

Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., also hasn’t had trouble finding labor during the heat wave, but the company has had other labor-related challenges because of the high temperatures, said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing.

Because of the heat, Rainier has had to spray more water on its apples and cherries, Wolter said. But the company’s organic cherries are highly susceptible to mildew. As a result, Rainier has had to move crews on short notice from apple orchards to cherry orchards to pick cherries before mildew sets in, Wolter said. And pickers must be sure that they don’t pick fruit that’s already become mildewed.

Also, Rainier has had to send crews out at dawn to get fruit picked before cherries — organic and conventional — are softened by the intense heat. Crews have typically wrapped up picking by 10 or 11 a.m., she said. On July 23, Yakima set a record high for that day of 109, Wolter said, and temperatures for several days before and after July 23 were in the triple digits.

POTATOES

In Idaho, potato grower-shippers were lucky to have enough rain earlier in the year to compensate for the intense heat, said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle.

“The good thing about the timing of this heat is the plants are mature and able to withstand a lot of stress, especially since growers are able to get water on plants and water hasn’t been an issue this year,” he said.