May rains concern strawberry crop growers

May 27, 2010 5:42:57 PM PDT
The rain is a welcome sight for those who are happy the drought is over, but it's causing major problems for two popular fruit crops.

One strawberry grower expressed his thoughts on the late May rain.

"In all other circumstances, this would be wonderful but right now in terms of the strawberries, it's just terrible," cherry grower Ralph Santos Jr. said.

Cherry growers may find the weather even more devastating. Ralph Jr. operates 200 acres of cherry trees in Gilroy. Next week he was going to have a crew of 500 pickers hit the orchards. Instead today, he called his insurance agent to give him the bad news.

"Every place I looked there were cracks and I realized for all intents and purposes, we're done," he said.

Ralph Jr. fears the crop will be a total loss.

Bing cherries are at a critical point in the growing cycle. The skin is thin and taut across the fruit and turning red. When moisture from the rain creeps in, the skin splits making the cherries unshippable. Ralph's son is a fourth generation grower.

"Basically the costs of picking the trees and weeding though the acceptable and split fruit is just too expensive. It's just not cost effective to try to pick though the orchard," Ralph Santos III said.

Pete Aiello is the general manager of Uesugi Farms along Highway 25. He has a similar sinking feeling as he watches the rain fall. From a distance, the rows of strawberry plants look gorgeous with big red ripe fruit and white flowers still in bloom. If you take a closer look, you understand Pete's heartache -- the ditches in between the rows are littered with discarded rotten fruit.

"Strawberries are a real sensitive fruit, sensitive soft skin and if any water puddles up and it's just sitting there in water, it just starts decaying," Pete said.

While the emotions and financial pain have hit the growers ABC7 spoke to, consumers may feel the impact of this unusually wet weather too.

Strawberries and cherries are grown across California, and how much more rain and just where it falls will determine if retail prices rise.


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