From the Fields®
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower , It has been a generally favorable growing season for rice this year, at least in my opinion.
On balance, our rice crop looks pretty good this year, both on the better soils around Delevan and the tough, heavy clay soils out in the Colusa Basin.
With the annual uncertainty with respect to the status of our water rights and supplies along the Colusa Basin Drain, we rarely get much planting done before about the 5th of May, this year being no exception, with our last fields having been sown May 23.
With the announcements of full supplies for the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, several of those districts draining into the Colusa Basin above us, we were much more confident that there would be return flows available to pump under our appropriative rights, which have not been curtailed this season. As such, we planted all the available rice lands, many hundreds of which acres were fallowed in 2014 and 2015.
While I had hoped that several years of fallowing might reduce the weed pest pressure, we experienced what seemed to me to be an inordinate amount of sprangletop and barnyardgrass pressure in a number of the fields. Again, the crop protection materials available to control these pests didn't seem to be up to the task, due I presume to continuing biotype resistance, particularly with respect to the sprangletop.
With all our applications complete for the year, with the possible exception of some treatment for blast or aggregate sheath spot and stem rot, it's pretty much keep the water on the rice, think positive with respect to upcoming yields and, of paramount importance, successfully market the very large 2016 California rice crop. That is, by most accounts, going to be challenging.
By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower
Farm markets are cyclical. What goes up will come down. A few years back, hay was very profitable. This year, it's not fun being a hay farmer. Hay prices are down, and it's definitely a buyer's market. Compound that with there being few buyers, and it's hard to say what is your best strategy. Lowering the price won't stimulate sales if nobody wants the product, but holding out for a profitable price may not get any sales either.
I sell to a large number of small buyers, and thus far they have been showing up as usual, but the large-volume dealers I need have been lagging in sales. I'm hoping for a spike in interest with the coming rainy season.
My grain markets have been slightly better. At least I can sell that product, and there is some amount of profit.
The good market right now is in straw, which is left over once the crop's grain has been removed. What was long considered a by-product, sometimes not worth the bother, is now an important part of my cash flow. Most of my straw goes for erosion control, but the traditional bedding use is still in demand. And, with the unreasonably high hay prices four years ago, some cattle producers started feeding straw mixed with grains to make a balanced ration. In today's market, you can buy some hay cheaper than straw.
Sonoma County is also gearing up for grape harvest. Some champagne grapes have been picked, and still wines will follow soon.
By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County diversified grower
We are finally finishing up with our avocado harvest this year and it proved to be a fruitful one. Both avocados and lemons proved to be strong crops for us this year, and I continue to be impressed with how our packinghouses—Index Fresh and Saticoy Lemon—are able to market these crops.
The timing of picking on the avocado side seems to have run right into our winegrape harvest, which was early again this year by historical dates, but seems to be the new norm for the last few years.
This year, we started picking winegrapes for sparkling wine programs in July and for still wines in August. Most winemakers I've been talking to have been lamenting that they used to bottle their previous vintage wines toward the end of summer, then had two weeks "off" before moving into harvest. But with these earlier harvests, there is no longer any break in between.
As far as crop load: After the disastrous almost crop failure of 2015, we were all hoping for a more substantial crop in 2016, but that does not seem to be in the cards.
Everything we are seeing from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles seems to be coming in at lighter yields than our historical averages. This means that many varieties from the Central Coast will be very short this year, because in addition to the light coastal yields, there is fear about "smoke taint" getting into the grapes/wines in Monterey County due to the ongoing Soberanes fire that has been burning up there.
By Al Medvitz, Solano County farmer and sheep producer
This spring, a building contractor recruited away one of our five key employees by providing higher wages, shorter hours and better benefits than we. By coincidence, we have permanently leased out our grain and safflower production and scaled back alfalfa production for the year. We can cope shorthanded until next year, but we face the daunting task of finding a qualified replacement.
Our equipment for raising dryland grain and safflower has gotten old, and the scale of our operation in today's markets doesn't justify expenditure on new harvesters or tractors. So, for the first time after nearly 150 years, the ranch has leased the entirety of its grain production to neighbors who are expanding their scale.
The yield on roughly 1,200 acres of wheat and barley was OK, and 140 acres or so of safflower is getting ready to harvest. They are also grooming 1,200 acres of summer fallow for next year's grain crop.
After eight years of 120 acres of alfalfa production, we are rotating that land through a barley crop. Some of that crop was grazed off by our early lambs, some was baled as hay for our fall and winter feed needs, and some was harvested as grain for finishing our lambs for market. We will replant alfalfa next year.
Our breeding ewes and bucks are being set loose on the recently harvested lands, after being confined to uncultivated pastures that will be prepared next year for the 2017-18 crop.
Maintaining weed-free and nutritious forage on our grazing land is a never-ending struggle. We are planning a 40-acre test plot for several varieties of pasture grasses and dryland alfalfa, to improve our forage base.
Over the past several years, we have culled and improved our flock of sheep. We are rebuilding it using high tech ID tracking that gives detailed information on the health management and breeding of each individual ewe. This allows for better selection of ewe lambs for replacement breeding stock.
This year's lamb production has gone well. We continue monthly lamb shipments to Niman Ranch and weekly shipments to our restaurant customers in the Bay Area. Prices have remained relatively stable.
Our 50 acres of winegrapes look good after reduced yields last year. Within weeks, we will be harvesting.
Because of encroaching salinity in the Sacramento River and damage to the irrigation intake pipe, we are relying on groundwater when the river is not available. This is costly because of the necessity to treat the groundwater for high pH, boron and sodium levels and the necessity of running an additional groundwater pump to feed our drip pumping system.
By Dana Merrill, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower
Here on the Central Coast, our vines are just moving into veraison. Some areas are more advanced than others, of course. It appears that harvest will begin in August again, as in the past few years. Vines grew well to start the year, with more normal rainfall, but the heat spikes have put some stress on them in Paso Robles.
While rains helped with salts, they were not the heavy El Niño that had been forecast, so there was not much help for the aquifers, it seems.
Beyond that, labor is becoming an increasing concern in terms of supply. Wage hikes as the minimum wage increases are another concern, and the ruling that changed how nonproductive time is to be paid has sent shockwaves through our labor supply and labor contractors.
Marketing-wise, there is decent demand for variety-specific needs of wineries. Cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir seem to be leading the way in their respective ideal regions from Paso Robles to Monterey and Santa Barbara. Yields look to be average overall, based upon cluster counts.
By John Eiskamp, Santa Cruz County berry grower
This is the height of berry season. Strawberries, which are the largest crop in our valley, are at peak production. Growers in some cases have been struggling with availability of harvest crews. I have seen some fields that have been abandoned or mowed down because of lack of labor.
As far as the caneberries and raspberries, the early pricing was challenged, and we were in a situation where the market couldn't handle the volume. As a result, we had to divert fruit to processing in order to release some of the pressure on the fresh market. Unfortunately, the returns from processing are about half of what it costs to pick the fruit, so it is a losing proposition. But the goal is to protect the fresh market and keep it sustainable. That situation has eased up now, as production is way down and we are now in the summer when things slow down.
Blackberries are in the peak of the season and volumes are high. Pricing is somewhat low, but not as bad as it was in the raspberries earlier in the year. We had a cold winter with good chill, so that has helped the development of the blackberries. Hopefully, the prices will strengthen as the season goes on.
Harvest started about normal this year. Raspberry yields, because some was diverted to processing, are going to be on the low side. Blackberry yields look pretty decent this year.
We have a very high labor requirement. We are doing better than some. We have had to do some overtime this year, more than I like. You can't get behind, especially in raspberries, because of the time it takes to get caught up. We haven't had to walk away from any blocks this year.
After several years of increased acreage, it has kind of dropped off the last couple years, especially in raspberries, because the market isn't as strong as it was five years ago. After this year, we may see even more raspberry acres being taken out.
My berries are sold through Driscoll and shipped across the United States, Canada, Mexico and some overseas exports.
By Jake Samuel, San Joaqin County diversified grower
We finished cherry harvest at the end of May this season and worked into our postharvest cleanup.
Cherry harvest this season was probably the most interesting I have ever seen. We had a wide range of quality and a wide range of size. The early rain in May was very detrimental to our bings and some of our early varieties as well.
Right now, we are keeping an eye on mites and leafhoppers; in August, we may have an application. We are also working in topping and hedging our cherries and removal of deadwood this month. Fertilizer has also been going out this last month.
Walnuts are looking very heavy this season. They are beginning to harden off their shells and we are keeping an eye on mites as well. Codling moth and huskfly counts have been well at bay this year. It may be because we have not had much heat over 100 degrees. With that being said, we are also weary of the Botroperia fungi that can grow in cooler conditions, so we are watching this closely as well.
However, the warm temperatures at the end of July may change things. Timing for walnut harvest should be around the same time as last year, as we are beginning our custom shaking of almonds the first week of August.
By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower
We are gearing up for almond harvest and finishing up prepping our fields. Hull split seemed somewhat uniform this year, but we are currently having a high heat wave and not sure how that will affect the nuts.
Right now, we are mowing weeds in the center of the rows and spraying the weeds on the borders to help clean up the orchard. We are taking props down that are holding the heavy branches up. Everything is getting one last irrigation this week before we start harvest; we want to guarantee the trees aren't too water stressed heading into harvest.
We are finishing up last-minute checks on shakers, sweepers, harvesters and tractors to ensure everything will be running smoothly when it comes time to go, and try to cut back on any down time from equipment sitting too long. Some farmers around us have started shaking early, which could be due to navel orangeworm pressure or water stress. We will be shaking nonpareils this week.
By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower
Growing conditions have been favorable for most of the summer so far, and crops are looking good. Growers on the west side of Stanislaus County are beginning to shake almonds this week, which is a few days earlier than last year, and it appears to be a good crop so far.
Processing tomato harvest is starting up in the area, as well as cantaloupe harvest. Apricot harvest finished up in June; the season was short, though production was much better than 2015. The walnuts are sizing nicely at this point, and most lima beans in the area are growing well.
With low hay prices and increasing water costs, many alfalfa fields have been pulled out in our area and either fallowed or planted to other crops this year.
Water continues to be an issue, especially for Central Valley Project contractors who are unsure if water they have stored in San Luis Reservoir will be available when they need it for irrigating. The uncertainty of our surface water supply on the Westside continues to be a major concern for farmers in the area, with little to no positive news from the Bureau of Reclamation or state of California.
By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County apple grower
California Gala harvest began for us on July 11. This is the second year in a row for an early start. Is this the new normal?
With typical Central Valley cool mornings and evenings and only a few spells of extremely hot (100+) weather and with available water for overhead cooling, apples look to be coloring and sizing nicely as we harvest our Galas over the next three weeks.
Early Fuji and Granny Smith harvests will follow almost immediately behind the Gala harvest. These varieties also look to be of good quality and size.
While California apple production has shrunk over the last decade, the retail market has supported the consumers' appetite for the first fresh apple to hit the produce shelves, and prices look to be above average for the upcoming season.
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