Rain at wrong time impacts California tomato harvests

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:03 AM AKDT
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STOCKTON, Calif. (KOVR) - Paul Sanguinetti’s family has been farming in California for more than 150 years.

He is in the middle of his tomato harvest, and he cannot get them on the trucks fast enough.

“I know all the canneries are looking for guys to grow tomatoes,” he said.

More farmers have turned to almonds and walnuts, leaving less water for tomatoes.

“So, if you have a permanent crop like walnuts and you only have enough water for that crop, well that’s the crop you’re going to take care of,” he said.

It is a different water issue that will have a ripple effect on his tomato crop this year: too much rain at the wrong harvest time.

“It creates mold. Mold is what the cannery doesn’t want,” Sanguinetti said. “You get too much mold, you get the moldy can and then the can blows up.”

And with storm clouds threatening the harvest, it’s a race against time. If the tomatoes turn, that means trouble for the farmer.

“They start sending the trucks back loaded. They come back, and you have to dump them. And that’s it. Normally you don’t harvest anymore tomatoes, because the whole field gets mold,” Sanguinetti said.

Wet weather also slows the harvesting process.

“If the ground gets wet, you can’t get in and you don’t get as much done because of the mud in the machine,” Sanguinetti said.

A rotten turn of events with Mother Nature could impact millions of tons of tomatoes, which are used to make pasta sauces. And less sauce on the shelves means more money consumers might have to spend.

“They tell me the warehouses are empty, so that means when you go to the store and you want to buy tomato sauce for spaghetti and there are only a few cans on there, you say, ‘I better buy a couple extra ones,’” Sanguinetti said.

There is crop insurance, but Sanguinetti says don’t bank on it.

“To get your money back is all it does,” he said. “And you can’t make any money.”

And this year, he says it will be hard to catch up given the ever-rising price of doing business due to inflation.