Central Coast summer: too cool for the crops

While much of the nation swelters in record-breaking summer heat, the Central Coast has enjoyed unseasonably cool temperatures. But farmers in the county are starting to wonder if it’s too much of a good thing.

Many crops — everything from wine grapes to vegetables — are lagging several weeks behind in the ripening process.

“Normally, this time of year we’re really moving, but we just haven’t seen that yet,” Dan Sutton of the Pismo Oceano Vegetable Exchange said. “We are having some tighter supplies in produce.”

It typically takes a vegetable crop 75 to 90 days to go from planting to harvest. This summer, it’s taking two to three weeks longer, Sutton said.

Vintners are seeing similar delays. Late ripening of the fruit pushes the harvest later into the autumn.

“It could all still be OK, but it’s definitely starting to be a concern,” said Dana Merrill of Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery in Templeton. “We are kind of afraid we could run out of season.”

The main danger of a late harvest is that it increases the likelihood that the crop will be wiped out or damaged by a storm or a killing frost. At greatest risk are the late-ripening varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon.

“I’ve heard some people say we are going to be picking on Thanksgiving,” Merrill said.

Cool and foggy conditions also promote the growth of mildew in some vineyards. A late heat wave could cause all the fruit to ripen at once.

“That could cause logistical problems in harvesting,” said Bob Lilley, county agricultural commissioner.

On the plus side, the cooler temperatures mean vintners need to use less water. If the grapes can make it to harvest without being damaged by weather, the crop could actually be better.

The plentiful rain of last winter got the grapes off to a good start, said Steve Carter, vineyard manager for J. Lohr Winery in Paso Robles. Also, cooler temperatures increase the acidity in some varieties, which is an advantage.

If the mild summer persists, some vintners will have to thin the grape crop to lighten the load on the plant and ripen the remaining fruit sooner, Merrill said.

But there is only so much any grower can do to influence a crop.

Ultimately, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“If we make it through to harvest, it should be a good crop,” Merrill said. “But it’s a little iffy if we can make it all the way through.”

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.