Tough Spring Weather Hits Crops in West, Midwest Hard

Hail ranging in size from dimes to baseballs fell throughout the Midwest and southern Plains last week causing damage that ranged from minor to catastrophic. Orchard crops on the West Coast have also felt the effects of spring storms.

In crop growing regions, the decision on what to do next depends on the size of the hail and the growth stage of the crop. In Oklahoma, where crops were pounded with hail as big as baseballs, corn may have been big enough that replanting is not an option. Crops in Illinois were hit with smaller hail, and those in Missouri weren’t as far along and may recover.

According to agronomy experts, farmers should wait a few days to make decisions on what to do with their crop. According to Michigan State University agronomists, loss of stand is the greatest concern during the vegetative stage of crop development. They recommend that farmers revisit damaged fields a week to 10 days later to determine which plants have survived.

Orchards hit hard
Yuba and Sutter counties in California have also experiences several bouts of heavy weather, beginning in March. The local prune, peach and cherry crops have been mangled by rain and hail storms leading into the summer months, causing millions of dollars of damage to one of the cornerstones of the regional economy — orchard crops.

High winds, low temperatures and heavy rain devastated the local prune crop, prompting Yuba and Sutter counties to declare a disaster with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, according to the agricultural commissioners of both counties.

Prune losses are pegged between 60 and 90 percent, with a total loss of value estimated at $66 million. Lesser losses were also seen in Yuba County’s cherry crop, which suffered from the same March weather issues that plagued prunes, and Sutter County’s peach crop, which was sporadically pelted by hail in the second week of May.

The cherry crop losses were estimated at 80 percent of the total crop — a value of about $1.7 million, said Stephen Scheer, agricultural commissioner for Yuba County.

A disaster declaration was also submitted for the cherry crop.

In Sutter County, the hail damaged an estimated 2,000 acres of the 5,700 acre crop, said Ajayab Dhaddey, manager of field operations for the California Canning Peach Association.

The damage ranges from minor to severe, and growers are still working to assess it, Dhaddey said.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Dhaddiy said.

Losses to crops can have an impact on the local economy. Agricultural is one of the main economic engines of the region, and the dollars spent in the industry multiply throughout the community, according to a study by Eric Houk, an agricultural and natural resources economist and professor at California State University, Chico.

Houk’s study, which utilizes 2013 data, includes 13 counties in Northeastern California, including Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties.

Houk found agriculture, both directly and indirectly, supports about 60,000 jobs — around 20 percent of the jobs in the private sector.

The labor income from those jobs generated $2.8 billion for a total value added of $4.8 billion — almost 17 percent of the Northeastern California economy.

In Yuba-Sutter in 2014, agriculture had an indirect economic impact of $4 billion, according to the crop reports.

Not all bad
It’s not all bad news, however. After several years of severe crop shortages caused by the drought, the local rice industry will likely bounce back this summer, said Jim Morris, spokesman for the California Rice Commission.

“Indications are we will plant more rice this year,” Morris said. “This year’s increase in acreage will help our regional economy. It will benefit small towns throughout our valley that depend on farming as their foundation.”

Last year’s rice crop was about 130,000 acres less than a normal year.

A Texas A&M study indicates that California rice has an annual economic impact of more than $5 billion and 25,000 jobs on the Sacramento Valley, Morris said.

Source: Andrew Creasey,

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