From the Fields®
By Celeste Alonzo, Riverside County vegetable grower
The Coachella Valley is back to being sunny and warm after a series of rainstorms. The rain definitely slowed things down on the farm. The rain also took a toll on our green beans—not the best quality we would have hoped for. Unfortunately, some our green beans were also affected by Pythium (fungi) as well.
Potato harvest started and three different varieties are currently being harvested: white rose, red rose and Yukon. Harvest has also begun for green beans, green bell peppers, squash and eggplant. Corn will be harvested in a few weeks. Looking forward to this spring harvest season. Hopefully, the markets work in our favor and our hard work pays off.
Fortunately, we are doing great on labor supply as we are a small operation.
We will be selling fresh grilled corn and baked potatoes at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as at the Stagecoach Country Festival. So, stop by and have a taste of our local produce.
By Rob Miller, Del Norte County nursery producer
The winter here in Del Norte County has been exceedingly wet. We have had well over 100 inches of rain, and therefore there's not a lot of field work happening on Easter lilies planted in the field. However, in the greenhouse, we have finished shipping the last of our dormant hydrangea plants to the east, which was a busy season fundamentally from October through middle of March. We have also finished shipping Easter lily plants for Easter and the other products that we send—finished plants, flowering plants—to the stores in Oregon, Washington and some in California.
The crop looks good coming out of the greenhouse. Timing looks good and sales seem to be pretty strong. I visited customers that consume bulbs along the East Coast. They also say that demand seems to be pretty good. I think the coming season will be good and hopefully, demand from the retail standpoint will also be strong for Easter plants.
Our harvest is usually August through the end of October, sometimes into November. We normally get 4 or 5 inches of rain during the month of October, and this year we got 30, which created a very wet end to our planting season. So that was a little bit miserable. Who knows how that comes out? It could potentially affect the next two crops, because it takes approximately three years to make and grow a salable Easter lily bulb. It was very wet and muddy during the end of our planting season, so that extended into November. We actually ended up finishing just prior to Thanksgiving. Usually by the end of the first week of November we're done.
Wet and muddy is never good to plant any crop. It affects the rooting and growth of the bulb. You could have issues with the size of the crop. It makes the bulb not grow as large. And then if the bulb doesn't grow as large, that carries on because it creates size issues in later years, because we sell lilies based upon the size of the bulb.
The labor situation is difficult at best. There's definitely an overall shortage of labor in this small community.
By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer
We've had about 39 inches of rain here in Winters; everything is really wet. We have ground that we want to plant to almond trees, but it is on the wet side. We've been getting in with the ATV sprayers and doing all of our weed control. In our non-tillage orchards, we are able to get in and we've been mowing. We're continuing to prune the walnuts and are hoping to finish between the middle and end of the month. Some of the bloom sprays we had to do by helicopter, because the ground was just so wet. And now they are talking about another storm, so hopefully someday it will dry out.
The prune blossom looked good. We did have some rain during it. It is a little bit early to tell, but I anticipate we're going to have a good prune crop.
Regarding the walnut market, product has moved better and I anticipate that we're going to be looking at certainly higher prices than last year, but not as high as four years ago.
Labor continues to be tight and getting tighter, and it's just a problem we're going to have to put up with until we get some sort of improved guestworker program.
By Chris Lange, Diversified farmer in Tulare and Fresno counties
Local growers are thrilled to have 125 percent of normal rainfall this time of year. It has resulted in our hillsides being green and there's a tremendous flush on our citrus, olives, grapes and from that aspect, we couldn't be happier.
Because of the drought, we reduced our herds by two-thirds, but for the first time since we reduced the herds, we had a 100 percent calf crop this year. It's pretty great for every cow to have a calf.
Our hay crop is going to be a late harvest because of the rainstorms. We usually start cutting the hay in April and I don't know if we are going to be there this year.
For citrus harvest, we finished mandarins, lemons, limes and we are 70 percent complete on navel oranges. We have yet to start on Valencias and grapefruit. All of the harvesters are working, packinghouses are running at 100 percent and prices are far more stable than they have been in the last couple of years. The bottom line might turn out to be more favorable for the grower.
On the negative side, our farming costs are continuing to go up. We have an ever-increasing list of pests—Fuller rose beetles, citrus thrips, soft scale, red scale, olive fruit fly and Asian citrus psyllid—and then we have just the regular pests we always get. This means we spend more on pesticides.
We are pruning citrus and table olives like crazy because if we are going to have big fruit, one of the ways of attaining that is to keep pruning your trees. We had one of our better olive crops that we've had in a number of years last year and the olive trees couldn't look better, but we'll have to see.
On the down side, we've pushed out a large percentage of the Thompson seedless raisin vineyards. Half have been replanted in almonds. Last year, we planted 24,000 replacement citrus trees, so we redeveloped orchards that were old, tired and unproductive. This year, we have 14,000 trees on the list to redevelop. It's what you have to do if you are going to stay in the industry and be progressive.
By John Ellis, Kings County farm commodities sales manager
Cotton planting will be starting soon in Kings County, with the weather forecast calling for warmer temperatures and no rain, making for the perfect opportunity to plant. Growers are turning back to this old favorite crop this year thanks to somewhat better lint prices, continued higher yield potential from improved varieties and larger surface water supplies this year compared to the prior several years.
Processing tomato fields are being planted now, and this will continue for the next several weeks. The outlook is for fewer acres of this crop this year, as the tomato paste market has carryover supplies from last year remaining on hand. The continued strong U.S. dollar is definitely influencing the tomato paste market by reducing our competitiveness in the export market.
Alfalfa hay farmers green-chopped some of their fields during the dry stretch of weather earlier in March, so those fields will be ready for a cutting to bale the hay very soon. This step is always a sure sign of spring. The wheat crop is looking especially good this year, thanks to the steady rains during the past few months. The wheat is now heading out and will be either chopped for silage in April or harvested for grain in June. Walnut growers are finishing up pruning their trees, and soon we'll be seeing leaves appear.
Help out your local Kings County farmer by eating pizza today. The cheese and tomato paste suppliers will happily sell more of their inventory. Think about buying some cotton socks too.
By Sean Curtis, Modoc County cattle rancher
Looks like we had another batch of winter that came in a few days ago. That goes hand in hand with calving, which is in full swing right now.
Most of last year's hay that is stored in barns has been sold, although it hasn't all been freighted out yet. It is moving smoothly and evenly and prices aren't as good as they were, but OK.
There is lots of snow up high and the ground is wet. This is something of a unique thing for the high desert. But the water situation for those using storage should be good this year. At this point, it looks like it should be a good grazing year on federal permit forest lands, although that is more a matter of timing of rain rather than a lot of winter moisture. Certainly, the stock water should be good this year.
It is too early for growers to be revving up their tractors, but I think all the moisture may have changed the outlook for crops this year that may have been iffy the last couple years with very little water in storage.
We are in the middle of our massive effort to reduce wild horse herds in the Modoc National Forest. It is becoming a crisis and we have been told to expect significant grazing reductions both this year and next year. These horses don't just compete with livestock for feed, they also compete with pronghorn antelope, deer and elk. Livestock are managed on the range and horses are out there 12 months of the year, doing permanent damage to the range.
By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower
We had a lot of rain and now the sun is out and we forgot how to work, so we are trying to figure it out.
I've been in the almond business for four years and every year since I've had these almonds we basically worked on them all winter long and we've never stopped working. And now we've gone from sometime in November until just recently when we haven't been able to get into the orchard. Now we are doing a lot of catch-up.
We have another situation where we forgot what rain looks like on the dairy and we went through quite a bit of effort over the winter dealing with rain-related complications. But now it seems that it may all be behind us, and the cows are happy and it is good weather for them.
It is getting a little warm during the day; one day last week, it was 86 degrees. But as long as it cools down at night, the cows do fine. With cows and heat stress it is mostly about nighttime temperature that impacts them.
I am planted in winter wheat right now. We will usually be harvesting that in the first or second week of May and then we plant corn.
The wheat looks great, but it will be interesting to see the yields. It has been my personal observation, and not a scientific fact, that the drier the winter, the better the wheat, the higher the yields we get. I think the wheat doesn't like a lot of standing water and when you irrigate it, you have more control over the water than when it is raining. So, I am actually expecting that our wheat yields will be a little off because of the rain.
By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower
Prune bloom is now underway, accompanied by good weather in the Sacramento Valley, so we're hopeful for a nice crop set. But we'll be spraying fungicides for brown rot as rain approaches. The bloom timing is about normal, a nice return to normal from the past few years of early springs.
Fields are drying out nicely, with the exception of those inside levees or low spots. Suddenly, I'm behind on a lot of field work.
I'm hearing the early walnut varieties like Tulare are already pushing. Those guys will be looking to protect new growth from blight.
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer
Well, here it is mid-March already and the time for beginning ground work for the 2017 rice crop would normally be not too far off. Yet, as I write this, our fields are still saturated and rain is in the forecast again for this week. This could end up being one of those years where, once we finally do get going, it will have to be at full throttle in order to get the crop in on time. On the other hand, we could get a week of drying north wind that helps us catch up in a hurry. I would welcome that.
It's a bit ironic that, while over the past several years California has had reduced rice acreage due to the drought, this year it appears that we will have reduced acreage due to too much water. The bypasses are still full, and I've heard talk that as many as 50,000 acres won't dry out in time to plant rice. That's about 10 percent of California's normal acreage.
I just returned from attending the International Temperate Rice Conference. Held every four years, this time around it took place in Australia. It was late summer Down Under, and their rice crop is only weeks away from harvest.
A highlight of the trip was being able to attend Australia's Rice Field Day, which turned out to be very similar to California's Rice Field Day held in late August near Biggs. I saw firsthand how similar Australia and California are in terms of producing high-quality, medium-grain rice.
By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County forester
Lately, Mendocino County has had a nice break from all the rainfall we have been getting. My property is approaching 6 feet of rainfall this season.
During the break, we have been able to repair some of the damage from all the rain: road repair, trees down and so on. Due to all the rainfall and ground saturation, there are many places equipment cannot access.
This last week we had temperatures in the high 70s, so pretty soon orchards and vineyards will start to get very busy. Now, orchards and vineyards are pruning and checking their frost-prevention systems.
Cattle are in pretty good shape, considering all the rain. With not too many hard frosts, grass on rangelands is growing and providing good forage for livestock.
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