Valley Farmers Take Drastic Measures

Fresno The sight of rows of uprooted nectarine trees makes you think a strong windstorm swept through, but the damage in this case was intentional.

Clumps of dirt stick to the roots of these plum trees ripped from the earth. The toppled trees looked as if they were knocked over by a strong gust of wind, but they were done in by a changing market. Local grower Pat Ricchuiti says it's become difficult to make money growing plums, nectarines and peaches.

Pat Ricchiuti: "The times that we're having right now are pretty hard on the stone fruit industry and a number of different varieties that won't sustain the marketability to make them profitable."

So Ricchuiti took 400 acres out of production as much as 20-percent of his stone fruit crop. He says people just don't eat as much fresh fruit as they used to and they're not making as many cobblers and pies.

Pat Ricchiuti: "The very high retail prices that are in the stores that keep consumers from buying larger quantities of fresh fruit are part of it. The lack of shelf space that we've had in the past has hurt us."

Motorists used to driving past the pretty blossoms now see rows of trees ready for the wood-chipper.

Pat Ricchiuti: "Three weeks ago these were beautiful orchards. We'd already pruned them. That's the other thing that hurt us."

Some of these ripped out fruit trees will be replaced by almonds, though Ricchiuti will have to wait 4-5 years for the first crop. His once rural ranch is surrounded by homes. Developers have long sought more of this productive land.

Pat Ricchiuti: "When we sustain these kinds of losses the pressures are great. The downturn we've had in the housing market is really going to put an impact on that."

The massive uprooting of so many trees seems a bit extreme but Ricchiuti says farmers are often forced to diversify their crops to meet public demand and make money.

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