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Record wet winter, planting delays may impact California's tomato crop

Wet weather, planting delays may impact California tomato crop
Wet weather, planting delays may impact California tomato crop 02:38

PETALUMA – While record precipitation this winter contributed to significant water gains and eased California's drought emergency, it also put a damper on the ability to get crops into the ground on time.

For the state's tomato crop, the delay could have a nationwide ripple effect, as California grows more than 90% of all tomatoes for processed canned goods, such as pasta and pizza sauces.

Rian Gosser, a tomato farmer in the North Bay, describes tomato farming as a labor of love, you can see it on his hands.

"You think of an heirloom tomato but then you also want to buy a baguette and you want to get some cheese you know get a bufala mozzarella or you know a brie and then as well you buy some basil and then you know a bottle of wine and so it's like a picnic," he said of the fruit, "I like to say the times the tomatoes are you know, they're the leader of the show but they also are at times the part of the loss leader of the why the grocery basket gets full."

The grounds of his Petaluma farm are still wet. Too wet to plant his tomato crop.

"The soil is really saturated, heavy instruments or tools cannot get on to the soil yet," Gosser told KPIX. "So we might actually have to do kind of improvise a new, smaller, smaller implements."

By this time, Gosser said he would have planted at least some of his 20,000 tomato plants. For now, they stay in his greenhouse.

Stepping inside the greenhouse, one can feel an instant 20 degree increase in temperature. He said it's all the work of mother nature.

"This one should be going in the ground," Gosser said, holding up a semi-mature tomato plant. "So this is an example where we anticipated potentially if we can get in the ground early we will but because we can't quite yet."

At first, Gosser welcomed the extra moisture after a brutal few years. He started Windrift Farm in 2020 amid severe drought and wildfires. But the constant rain this winter eventually took a toll.

"I was literally looking at timeout and I was waking up every morning at 2:30, 3 o'clock just anticipating what the weather would be like on my phone, looking at different weather channels and forecasts and then realizing more and more moisture is coming," Gosser explained. "Too much rain at some point comes too much rain."

Dozens of his tomato plants fell victim to flooding and inflation has impacted every part of his operation.

"Boxes have all gone up 20% or more in the last couple years, employee costs have all gone up so I'm hoping I don't want to raise my prices from last year at this point because I'm very comfortable with our price line. But at the same time, I have to still wait to see how much these new supplies are going to cost," said Gosser.

Despite the wet winter, he's still expecting a bountiful year of delicious tomatoes.

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