Vineyards across the Central Coast, including Pacific Coast Farming, had high hopes that the latest weather system would bring more rain to the area, but that was not the case.
“Some of these buds are starting to come out of dormancy now and they are starting to push,” explained Erin Amaral, Pacific Coast Farming’s vineyard manager.
Pacific Coast Farming is a major supplier for wineries in Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, and even Napa County.
“We ended up getting a little bit of frost damage on some early shoot growth. At some point one night we hit 24 degrees in the lower parts of the vineyard,” Amaral said.
The Central Coast has gone through big temperature drops just this week.
“We like to call it 'weather whiplash.' We were setting records that have stood for more than 100 years,” said Dave Hovde, KSBY’s chief meteorologist. “Santa Maria saw 86 degrees, and we’re going to lose 30 degrees by the weekend with highs in the 50s.”
Grapevines are not the only ones suffering.
“You see more temperature swings in north county [where the] predominant crop is wine grapes. [In] southern San Luis Obispo County, you’ve got a lot of high-valued vegetables and orchard crops, so a small freeze can have a big economic on those farmers,” explained Brent Burchett, San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau Executive Director.
The big problem now is the lack of rainfall.
“We are very concerned because there should be more moisture coming, there should be a little bit of rain,” Burchett added.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, San Luis Obispo County as a whole is facing a moderate drought while 7.8% of the region is under severe drought.
“Look, this is a disappointing system and the reason it is disappointing is because January and February were the two driest months we’ve ever seen here and now it seems like March could be the third,” Hovde said.
That's forcing farmers to make some changes.
“In these fields, you can see that we are already tilling down the green vegetation to every other row in our vineyard. It’s one practice we do to eliminate some of the water competition with the vines," Amaral said. “We also have a lot of soil moisture monitoring tools.”
Organizations such as the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau are thinking ahead.
“It’s going to be our new normal, so we’re looking at things at the county level. We need to make investments in water infrastructure,” Burchett said.
Farmers who suffered losses due to a freeze event can reach out to the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau to learn more about a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, click here.