Salinas Valley Growers Face COVID-Related Challenges And More


The disruptions created by COVID-19 still linger, but there’s hope things will get better in 2022, say Salinas Valley shippers.

Many of the challenges have been similar to those faced by the industry at large. Labor, transportation, the California drought and crop diseases weigh on shippers’ minds.

Still, this season feels different, says Chris Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.

“This will be an interesting season since the business climate is almost a pre-COVID experience,” Valadez said. “It has that kind of feel to it. The situation going into a new season is close to the stability we had in 2019. There’s still an element of COVID at play, but it should be diminished.”

The H2A program has helped relieve some of the labor shortages faced by growers, but it certainly hasn’t resolved them entirely. Finding new workers from Mexico that have been fully vaccinated has been difficult.

“Labor disruptions continue to be a risk. Over 25% of all guest workers to California in the H2A program come to work in the Salinas Valley,” Valadez said. “While the majority of returning guest workers received both of their shots last year, finding new labor is requiring more resources to find workers already vaccinated.”

Companies in the Salinas Valley still have worker health and safety in mind. They are looking to be a resource for employees.

“In the Salinas Valley, over 95% of workers were fully vaccinated,” Valadez said. The association and grower-shippers worked together on the project. Now, we’re working to get employees boosted.”

Last year, the ratio for truck demand to availability cost growers more to move their fruit. Hopefully, the trucking industry will remedy the problem, Valadez said.

“Shipping companies have had to get better at finding drivers,” he said. “This affects our ability to move product. It always sets supply and demand off balance. It just adds to the cost of doing business. That’s a huge impact.”  

Water continues to be a big issue beyond COVID challenges. There are some similarities to the central San Joaquin Valley and other drought-stricken areas.

“There is a coalition of local, trade and landowner organizations supporting a Monterey County request for funding from the state of California budget surplus,” Valadez said. “The money would go toward improving spillways of the Lake Nacimiento and San Antonio reservoirs. The maintenance projects would cost in range of $150 million.”

Crop losses because of disease are another issue Salinas Valley grower-shippers faced last year. Disease looks to be a threat again this year.

“Last year, we lost a lot of lettuce crops. On average, 33% of plantings were a loss,” Valadez said. “Some fields were so bad, there were total losses.”

In 2021, impatiens necrotic spot virus, known as INSV, and pythium wilt were challenges growers faced in the fields. The diseases weaken plants, which leads to wilt and browning, making the infected greens unmarketable. Heat exacerbates the diseases.

There have been reports of the diseases this year. The rate of these diseases is higher compared to 2020 and 2021, Valdez said. 

“There is no treatment to combat the pest and disease on plants already in the ground,” he said. “There are concerns about temperatures being higher this year and greater losses caused by these diseases. There haven’t been any complete losses, but roughly around 10% of crops affected, so far.”

From The Packer