Hail cannons protect Valley stonefruit

FRESNO, Calif.

The hail cannon's boom and whistling vibrations were meant to disrupt the ominous skies above stonefruit orchards near Laton. The acetylene blast is strong enough to rattle wooden boards used to muffle the sound.

John Diepersloot of Elkhorn Farms is one of a handful of Valley growers who swear by the effectiveness of these 50-thousand dollar hail cannons. Diepersloot said, "Theoretically I don't why it works. Practical it does work."

The hail cannons kick on minutes before storms approach orchards. Diepersloot explained, "We've had hail clouds coming right at us. Hailing before it when the cannon was there, turning to slush and water and right behind it was hail behind it."

The hail which pounded several parts of the Valley on Monday could ruin nectarine and pluot orchards. Fruit can be knocked to the ground or scarred.

Diepersloot bought his first hail cannon six years ago. Now he has seven of them. He says on three occasions the machines saved his crop from hail damage. "It has a vibrational whistle going with it and the whistle is shaking and that vibration's just enough like water in an ice cube container. If you shake it takes a little longer to freeze."

During the spring, much of the country's lettuce is grown in the Valley. Jeremy Lane of Baloian Farms doesn't mind flooded fields as long as the hail stays away. Lane said, "The hail, the head of leaf would look like a shotgun blast went right through it."

Locally grown lettuce will be shipped around the country and to Canada. But crews can't get back into the fields until the ground dries out a bit. The delay in the harvest could affect the market. Lane said, "What we want to avoid is soil compaction. Going in when the soil is too wet and do more damage than good that's coming out of it."

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