mardi 2 août 2016

84- Bad weather -10- Annus horribilis


Come on, a last one about bad weather for the 2015-2016 campaign, in the form of balance of an unlikely, incredible, horrible year, during which my stress level has probably far exceeded legal norms, assuming they exist.

The vegetative autumn here, lasts roughly from mid-October to late November. This year 2015-2016, temperatures are high, and rain is missing. Plants have trouble finishing their cycle and to stop. Shorter days help, but the natural leaf drop does not occur.
The only solution for the farmer is to apply a defoliant to help trees to go dormant. Otherwise physiological disruption will be enormous and budbreak (vegetative awakening at the end of winter) in spring, will be totally anarchic.
It is a gentle defoliation, with copper sulfate or zinc sulfate at low dose, to avoid an abrupt stress, and allow the tree to migrate all the nutrients to the wood, to accumulate there reserves, which it will strongly need in spring (until the end of flowering, tree works almost exclusively by consuming its reserves, and it's only after bloom that root absorption takes over). A too brutal and rapid defoliation causes a violent stress, and deplete the plant.

Despite this, we have to begin winter pruning with many leaves. The work is slower and less well done, because the leaves disrupt the vision of the work to do.

The winter, from late November to late January, is still very soft and very dry. In total, we are missing 70% of normal rainfall, and also 70% of the normal cold. This is a very curious and totally abnormal situation.
In principle, the lack of cold coincides with the very wet years. Cloud cover and humidity created by the rain, prevent night cooling, so the accumulation of cold hours.
This year, we combine a clear sky, almost cloudless, and very mild temperatures. An amazing anomaly.
The blooming begins with an advance of two weeks, but in a very staggered way (because of the lack of cold) with the first full blooming (when 70% of flowers open) from January 10. The staggered blooming will cause various problems in the spring, we know that, but we can't do anything and we are unable to predict, both in their nature and severity.

Spring will alternate disruptive situations. First, spring frosts, between 17 February and 13 March, 8 nights of alert, and many cold mornings. The cold that we did not have during winter comes late, with its attendant problems and damage. But during these four weeks, between colds, added some hot shots, usual here in the spring. This hot and cold alternating, seriously disturbs the plants.

In fact, this is the first time, at least since 1974 (first year of climate records in our main farm), that we combine, in the same year, a winter lack of cold and spring frosts.

With mid-April arrive our first fruits, with a nice weather. Our main competing regions also suffered from spring frosts, and will have their beginning of campaign very disturbed and late. Western Andalusia is the only European region to produce at that time, and competition from North Africa is almost non-existent, because of the same climatic problems, in an even more extreme situation. The season is full of promise despite initial difficulties.

But it is ignoring the vagaries of weather. Let's start with a simple extended lack of light caused by a cloudy weather, just a few days after the beginning of our campaign. Sugar levels, one of the usual weaknesses of ultra-early fruits production are abnormally low and our customers, despite the lack of fruits, are little seekers.

In addition, we are beginning to see the first effects of climate disruption. Many fruits soften by mucro (blossom scar at the opposite of the stem). The fruit is still green, it still lacks several days before physiological maturity, yet the tip is completely soft. This is a phenomenon caused by a calcium deficiency due to a poor absorption of this element, essential in the constitution of fruit cells. The genetic of varieties has the main responsibility, but the problem is compounded by the cold in spring, during which roots are malfunctioning because the soil is too cold.
If we don't anticipate the harvest, we will lose almost all fruit. We are therefore forced to pick not enough ripe fruit, with not enough color, not enough sweet, not aromatic, and small, and more fragile. The situation deteriorates early. We are already disillusioned. We are alone on the market, but we encounter serious difficulties in selling a product far from our quality standard.

But in the areas to which we usually send our fruits (France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, etc.), it lets a powerful and lasting cold episode, with even snow. However, as I explained to you in a previous article, peach and nectarine are summer fruits, which are consumed on nice days. Usually spring, without necessarily being nice and warm in Northern Europe, is sufficiently mild so that these fruits are eaten with some regularity. But under snow, it's a different story ...


Fortunately, the weather finally improves. We arrive in late April and early May. Quality indicators greatly improve, but soft tips problems persist. Our competitors in the region suffer from the same difficulties. It is reassuring, insofar as it confirms that we have not committed any serious technical mistake. We are suffering, all together, the consequences of particularly unusual and adverse weather conditions.
The market is recovering gradually, but our quality problems close the access to some challenging locations, that we usually serve.

Unfortunately, from May 5, moved to Europe a particularly aggressive disturbance. To us, it leaves a 10-day period of daily rains, transforming our orchards in a wading pool, making the harvest particularly difficult and causing a new collapse of our quality criteria. 

We are now with poor quality fruit, that we are trying to sell in areas that anyway would not buy, even if they were very good, because the climate does not encourage consumption.
Our cold rooms are filling inexorably, since we must pick more than what we can sell.

Then comes the difficult time, when it is better to throw at the orchard all noncompliant fruits, because the rate of unmarketable fruits are too high. It's depressing.

It even seems that our competitors choose to relinquish lands without picking them. It shows how serious is the situation!
We did not arrived at these ends, but I don't know if they are not right!

We'll need quite a long time to have a decent level of quality again.
The rain finally stops, the sky clears, and we get, in a few days, a fairly usual weather. Until May 13, the maximum temperatures remain below 20 degrees with rain every day. From May 16, we are every day between 32 and 34 degrees. 

Trees are struggling to withstand these sudden changes, then they bear harvest. The soil is still saturated with water. Maturation becomes very chaotic, out of control.
Harvesting criteria normally established from one day to the other, must be changed every day, sometimes several times in the same day. Forecasts are not reliable. Uncertainty in orchards is automatically transmitted to the commercial department, unable to organize the sales in advance, condemned to suffer the whims of the market, without any way to defend our product.

The campaign continues on this same chaotic pace. On June 25, happiness never comes alone, an electrical incident caused a fire in a cold room. The damages are limited to a single room, luckily not very filled, but with already packed fruit, ready to be shipped. But we did not really need that ...

The campaign ends in an agonal way, with small amounts of late varieties, physiologically very disturbed. The lack of winter cold is reflected, for varieties with the highest needs, in a late start, and an abnormally long harvest time. Our fruit campaign, which should have ended around June 20, drags on till to July 5, with temperatures above 40 degrees and fruits that grow slowly, but still very fragile.

It is curious to note that all the phenomena we have experienced this year, have already been experienced before, the lack of cold, a dry winter, spring frosts, the lack of light, the rains of May, bad weather in destination, heat waves in harvest, campaigns that drag on, even fires in cold storage.
But we never had accumulated in a single campaign, as many adverse conditions.

The final economic result will not be known until September, once all submissions have been paid and disputes, abnormally many this year, have been resolved.
But I already know that it will be bad, one of the worst campaigns ever known by the company since it began its activity, over 45 years ago. That is to say!

A year to forget, despite the scars it will leave.
But a year that, if we are able to draw all the lessons, will allow a deep questioning of many aspects, which should bring us a lot for coming years.
Every cloud has a silver lining...

Our nectarines are not so bad !!!

For more details on the different types of bad weather, you can read the following articles:

About the lack of cold:

About spring frost:

And also:

About the lack of light:

About rain during harvest:

About heat waves:

About bad weather in destination:

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