On a drizzly day last week a young man walked down my driveway calling out for help. It turned out that he had followed Google maps instructions to turn onto a dirt road through our farm fields and immediately gotten stuck in the mud. Luckily for him, we were able to pull him out.
Most Californians live in areas that are essentially waterproof. Wet weather is a minor inconvenience of short duration, unless it’s a storm big enough to knock the power out, fall a tree in their yard, or flood their basement.
In rural areas, however, a wet winter like we’re having now turns most of the world into an impassable swamp. Freshly wet soil is actually similar to deep snow or ice: impossible to drive on and difficult to walk through. It is somehow simultaneously slippery and sticky. It makes commonplace dry-weather activities impossible to accomplish. Although we haven’t had much flooding so far, it’s been raining here more days than not. Despite much of February being relatively dry, we now have received almost 30 inches of rain: well over 100% of our average rainfall for the entire winter.
Rain and wet soil shuts down essentially all farming activities. Tractors and other 4-wheel drive vehicles can operate in damp conditions, but they quickly bog down in heavy mud. And using them this way causes long-term damage to the soil. Even harvesting crops on foot, without tractors, can damage the soil if it’s wet enough.
Of course, after three years of drought, California desperately needed the rain and snow we’ve received so far this year. But as if the wet weather continues into the second half of March, it will no longer be beneficial to agriculture or rural areas in general.
With heavy rain now in the forecast for much of the next week for much of the state, farming will be significantly impacted. You’ve probably already seen flood warnings being issued for many areas, especially where low-elevation snowfall has built up just upstream. But it’s important to remember that a farm doesn’t have to flood to experience crop losses.
Take Terra Firma’s tomato crop. We normally plant our first — and biggest — planting of tomatoes this week. Every week that we delay planting those tomatoes corresponds to a week in the summer that we will not be harvesting tomatoes. There is no button to push to speed up the plants or play catch up. It’s too wet to plant tomatoes this week, and it almost certainly will still be too wet next week. We commonly harvest each tomato field for three weeks, so if we can’t plant the first planting until early April, we will lose 3 weeks of tomato sales. And we have another planting that will be ready to put in the ground by then anyway.
Of course it’s not just tomatoes. March is normally a busy planting month for us. If we can’t plant at all this month due to wet soil, it’s really no different than if we had planted all the crops on March 1st and had them flood.
Now expand that explanation to all the farmland in Central and Northern California. Hundreds of thousands of acres of crops are planted every year in March between the Sacramento, San Joaquin and Salinas valleys as well as the Central Coast around Santa Maria. This is not a geographically localized incident: it is going to affect a dozen or more crops, not just fresh vegetables.
In recognition of the cold, wet weather impacting our current and future harvest availability, we are suspending the 2023 price increase for your boxes and reverting to 2022 pricing. We ask for your continued patience and support as we continue to grapple with a difficult year. We are quite literally stuck in the mud right now, spinning our wheels and waiting for some dry weather.