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A Few Rainy Days Brighten Growers’ Outlook Considerably : Agriculture: In a word, they’re ‘ecstatic.’ Some crops suffered damage in the downpour, but it’s early in the season and later yields should benefit.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The bucketfuls of rain falling on Orange County last week have caused a handful of problems for some farmers but left most of them jumping for joy.

“I’d say ecstatic is a pretty good word for our industry right now,” said Ralph Klages, president of the California Assn. of Nurserymen. Nursery plants are the county’s largest cash crop, accounting for $132.6 million in sales in 1989.

“As the weathermen tell us every night, the rain didn’t solve the drought,” he said. “But, at least this week, we don’t have to use our (water) reserve, the rain is leaching out the salts in the soil, and even psychologically it’s a help. We know there is an end in sight.”

Five years of drought have left many garden plants and citrus and avocado trees with a brown “burn” at the tips of leaves from the high concentration of salt in the soil.

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The storms sweeping across the Pacific Ocean brought nearly 5 inches of rain to most of Orange County, with more rain forecast.

Too much rain too fast can cause erosion in orchards, said Nanci Jimenez, executive director of the Orange County Farm Bureau. Her office has received no reports of damage, but growers are watching for heavy runoff.

Strawberry crops, however, are in danger, she said. “The problem with Southern California is we have rain one day, sunshine the next. It causes a humidity problem that can cause mold on the berries,” she said.

A. G. Kawamura, who farms about 600 acres in Irvine, Costa Mesa and San Juan Capistrano, said the rain has slowed his harvest of strawberries, the county’s second-largest crop. Earlier this week, workers were picking 52,000 to 65,000 pounds of salable strawberries a day. But the rain has caused yields to drop to about 13,000 pounds.

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Rain breaks the skin of ripe strawberries and waterlogs them. Kawamura said he could lose up to half the strawberries that were ready for harvest last week.

In addition, he said, the rain may ruin more than 40 acres of string beans and squash that he recently planted by rotting the seeds and preventing them from germinating.

The rain could also slow harvesting of other crops, such as celery, said Frank Parsons of the Orange County Agricultural Commissioner’s office.

But it is early in the season, and growers remain hopeful that the rain will benefit the remainder of their crops, boosting yields later in the season.

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McKay Smith, a grower in Fountain Valley, said he is glad he has finished his celery harvest. “So far, my crops look OK,” he said. “We needed the rain desperately.”


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