By Rosemary Revell
Democrat staff writer
This springs cold temperatures accompanied by rain, hail and frost have devastated the crops of El Dorado County. The spring that never was has created ideal conditions for two different strains of bacteria to thrive. They have attacked and damaged this years tree fruit crops, wreaking havoc in the lives and livelihoods of El Dorado County growers. The fimbulwinter meaning long-lasting or never-ending winter has meant that many growers could not win. Months of effort and expense have resulted only in blasted fruit.
Lynn Wunderlich, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor, described the crop damage in El Dorado County as very, very bad.
It is heartbreaking, she said. There was nothing any of the growers could do about it. Thats agriculture. We have to deal with the weather.
More bad news is that a further challenge awaits growers at harvest time. Cold weather now will delay the harvest by several weeks, leaving the growers vulnerable to damage by autumn storms.
As if all this is not challenge enough for the growers, theres a new fruit fly from Asia being found in El Dorado County.
Beasties that blast
Wunderlich explained the devastation caused by bacterial blast, the main culprit in the crop damage. The bacteria thrive and attack in the wet and the cold.
The main damage is from bacterial blast. This disease only comes in cold, wet conditions. We had one storm at the end of April and another May 10 that created the perfect conditions.
This kind of bacteria is all over, but it does not do any damage. It is normally present but not infectious. It is always associated with very cold temperatures and wet conditions.
I went and looked at 20 years of temperature data for the month of May. The last time it was this cold it was 1998.
This has really hurt the tree fruit peaches, plums and cherries, Wunderlich said.
Blast bacteria infections first appear as black lesions on the leaves that eventually wither, curl and drop. Even entire twigs may die back. Diseased areas are covered with a reddish brown scab. Blast infections result in small black spots on the fruit.
Wunderlich said she did not know why the bacteria have the name blast, but she grimly quipped that a blast infection makes the tree and its fruit look like they were hit by an atomic blast.
At this time, there is no spray or treatment to prevent or combat bacterial blast. Only warm weather alleviates the infection.
What the blast did not destroy, the hail damaged, and theres frost damage in the vineyards, Wunderlich said.
Tree fruit growers
David Fausel of Fausel Ranch in Placerville has 15 acres planted in cherry and peach trees.
Fausel said, Theres been bacterial canker in the trees for years. Thats common, but Ive never seen it like this. What were cherries are gone. Its a wipe-out. It came right in the middle of the bloom. We had a beautiful bloom. The fruit was set, and then it rained, and it didnt quit.
Fausel said he has lost about two-thirds of his crop.
Chris Hoover of Hooverville Orchards in Placerville said the only thing that has saved him has been diversification.
Some things are OK because there was a window of good weather, but other crops are hammered. The cherries sustained hail damage, Hoover said.
His main damage is fire blight in the Asian pear trees.
The bacteria keep thriving, so we keep cutting off the pear tree limbs. There was fruit on the trees, and we had already started thinning it. Now were cutting off the limbs. It was a lot of effort for nothing. When it really gets hot, the heat kills off the bacteria. It will be three to five years before these trees show some fruit. Ive lost half the crop. It has happened before, 15 years ago. We save as much as we can. At least we knew what to do. Im blessed with diversification. I have a large bag of tricks. In 31 years, this is the ugliest fruit Ive ever seen, Hoover said.
Shirley and Reginald Rice of American River Cherry Co. in Placerville described much blossom damage to the cherries due to the several freezes during the blossoming time. Theres snow and hail damage to even the small amount of fruit there was, and water damage to the cherries.
The good news is that the Rice berry crop is perfect though very delayed.
We always open on Memorial Day, but this year were opening on June 15. Weve never opened on June 15 before, Shirley said.
Wine grape growers
Although some wine grape growers escaped the worst of the devastation, Sid Davis of Georgetown reported losing 75 percent of his crop. He grows at 2,700 feet.
Tom Jones, winemaker at Lava Cap Winery in Placerville, reported damage to 1 percent of his merlot crop.
They were planted where the cool air pools, Jones said.
Liz Ryan, business manager of Oakstone Winery in Fair Play, said, We havent had any damage. We fared well. Were in a little banana belt. We were really sweating it, but during the last rainy spell, there were not enough buds to be hurt. Were very relieved.
Greg Boeger of Boeger Winery in Placerville said, All of mine survived. I did frost protection by running sprinklers all night long at the higher elevations, 3,000 feet. I had a little hail damage; the leaves were shredded, but it didnt hurt the forming grapes though I did have some grape damage. What this really means is that were two to three weeks behind. With a late harvest, we could get rain on the other end.
New bug on the block
Deanna and David Fausel of Fausel Ranch said that in addition to the weather and bacteria, the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program is telling growers to be alert for the spotted wing drosophila or spotted wing fruit fly. Unlike other fruit flies, this one burrows into healthy fruit instead of damaged fruit. Once there, the female lays eggs that hatch into maggots. The damaged fruit is now vulnerable to other fruit flies as well as bacterial infections. This fly comes from Asia, the Fausels said. It is very prolific and can destroy a crop. The Fausels have been trapping the spotted fruit fly in jars of water.
Especially disheartening is that berries have come through this springs crop devastation safely, but they are vulnerable to the spotted fruit fly.
Although the spotted fruit fly is potentially devastating to a crop, there is one ray of hope.
At least its easy to spray for, David said.
To contact Rosemary Revell, e-mail email@example.com or phone 530-344-5068.