From the Fields®
By John Duarte, Stanislaus County nursery operator
For our tree and vine nursery, shipments are going very well. Growers have had a good chance to get prepared with the dry winter and dry early spring. Of course, they slowed down a little bit when the rains came through, but we'll welcome the rains.
Orders are still coming in and it looks like it will be another good year for nursery sales. Grapes are coming in steadily, but not quite as crazy as they have been in the past couple years in terms of new orders. The nut crops—pistachios, almonds and walnuts—are still very strong. There is very good demand for new citrus stock. The industry is definitely growing. And with the psyllid and some of the challenges that growers in the south valley are facing, there is good demand for citrus nursery stock wherever it is being successfully produced. We are seeing demand for all types of citrus, especially the easy-peel varieties. We are selling lemons and some navels.
Some of the longer-term projects that we have been seeing in the past couple years might be slowing down a bit as water security becomes an issue. Land acquisitions are going to change with this year's water cutbacks. When you have guys who thought they had fairly high-security water customers getting cut, that changes some of the projects going forward.
There have been fewer cancellations of orders than you would have imagined with the water situation being what it is, but it may be ebbing the tide a bit on future big plans in some areas.
I am hearing some growers following the strategy of now during the drought may be a good time to pull an old citrus grove out or an old orchard out that has needed to be replanted for some years now, and let the ground go fallow for a year during the drought. And even if there is some water shortage next year, a young orchard takes a lot less water than a mature orchard. So this is a good time to retool.
By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and cherry grower
The winegrapes began bud break about a week ago, earlier than normal, but with the warm weather everything seems to be growing well. The grapes are doing what they should be doing. We are putting crop protection products on for mildew. It is too early to predict any kind of a crop size.
With the cherries, it has been a very sporadic bloom. Even though we had relatively good weather during bloom for bee pollination, the bloom is just really messed up this year. We have some trees where a portion of the tree will have some fruit already setting with green leaves and the other portion of the tree will still have bloom on it. All indications are that the cherry crop in San Joaquin County will be light. Last year we had a very light crop and again this year it seems like we will have another light crop.
It all gets back to the weather. We did have good chilling hours, but because of the dry condition in December and January, it affected the trees.
As far as labor, we are doing OK right now. We are finishing up with the pruning of winegrapes and we are kind of in a lull. In about a month or so, once the cherries start, that is usually when we get tight on labor.
As far as water, the majority of farmers here rely on well water. There is always a concern of overdrafting. The pump people and well drillers are very busy.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer
For our operation, right now we just completed planting tomatoes. We will plant a little bit of cotton. We are going to be down quite a bit on all of our commodities. We will be fallowing 1,200 acres, which represents about 25 percent of our operation, just due to lack of water.
We just completed drilling one well and there is another one coming in about six months.
No surface deliveries is what we are hearing for this year and hopefully it won’t be like that next year.
Everything looks pretty good. It is an ideal growing season. The crops are progressing well.
We lost one field of garbanzos to an aphid infestation. It has affected a lot of the garbanzos that are grown in this area. There were varying degrees of damage from field to field, but we had one field that we just lost completely.
Almonds look pretty good and we will try to stay on time with water, as limited as it is. A lot of folks in our area are going to have a difficult time with it because the project has just dried up and it is all well water. We will see what this means later in the summer as people run out of water or have very thin water. We will have to see what that means for them, too.
We will be putting some well water on our almonds. Our well water isn’t as bad as it is in some areas, but we are going to blend it as much as possible. We carried over some surface water from the prior year through conservation and fallowing a lot of land last year. We are just continuing an unsustainable situation of losing our allocation and pumping groundwater.
In our area, we are 100 percent drip irrigation for our row crops, our trees and everything. It is a very large investment because the water is very difficult to acquire and it is very expensive.
By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County dairy farmer
From the dairy perspective, we are seeing record high milk prices although milk futures are starting to drop. While we are receiving high prices, it doesn't necessarily translate into record high profit margins because feed costs are still high. Protein feeds like soybean meal and canola meal are in the top 10 percent of their highs from a historical perspective. And alfalfa is at an all-time record high and in very short supply, partly brought on by the demand now that dairy producers have some money to spend, partly it is because of the drought creating a very short supply, and partly it is because there is a lot of property in California that had historically grown alfalfa and now has trees on it.
Corn silage is going to be very difficult to get hold of this year. There are very few farmers who are custom farming any more. A lot of the higher-value crops on the Westside have moved to the east, to where the water is at, because of the drought. Areas that traditionally had been used to grow dairy feed are now growing tomatoes and other crops.
I am in my first year of almond growing. I put in a couple fields of almonds this year and I will plant a couple more fields of almonds next year. It is a move toward diversification. I have a very old dairy. My place is 121 years old and the facility is 70-plus years old. Everything is falling apart. And my only choices to stay competitive as a dairyman are to rebuild and double up on what I have and try to make my dairy more efficient at considerable expense and with a very unknown payback cycle, or I can plant some trees, wait until the trees make money and use that money to fix the dairy. So that is my plan.
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower
In the low desert of Southern California, the old-crop cotton—planted in March 2013 and harvested in November—has concluded. It was a disastrous year. Yields were off by 25 percent and grades were substantially off base grade. Historically, 95 percent of our production meets and exceeds base grade, but last year only 65 percent met or exceeded base grade.
It was a year cotton growers want to forget, but with counts of the brown stinkbug already showing up in wheat fields, I fear we are going to have a similar year with tremendous stinkbug and whitefly pressure. I have reduced this year's cotton acreage by 50 percent. Of that reduced acreage, half of it is a short-season variety. This cotton crop was planted in the first two weeks of March and it is off to a very good start. Weather information indicates we are 16 days ahead of normal heat unit accumulation (year to date).
Alfalfa has suffered a similar situation to that of cotton. Last year and so far this year, the aphid complex is overwhelming. We are getting limited, at best, control with our current chemistries available and it doesn't appear any relief is in sight. Because of this, supply is limited and demand is strong.
This is going to be a very challenging year, to say the least.
By Susan Hoek, Nevada County beef rancher
We are enjoying this wonderful rain and pray for more to come. Everything is blooming or heading out, a month too early. This rain came just as we finished fertilizing the fields and softened the ground enough to do some ditch cleaning before irrigation season starts.
Spring calving is done and next week we will make the big cuts needed to insure feed for the remaining fall cows. We will also ship the remainder of fall calves and are thankful that the prices have been high and steady. I believe the early weaning, as hard as it was, has made a huge difference in the feed supply and what we will leave for next year on our winter ground.
This week includes attending workshops on irrigation strategy hosted by University of California Cooperative Extension and Placer RCD. The resources available have been so helpful as we continue to deal with the financial and emotional side of this drought. Seems that the drought is ever constant in our daily business, but for today we put it on hold and just enjoyed wearing our rubber boots.
By Stan Lester, Yolo County orchardist
We were pleased to have an above-normal amount of rain in February and thought we might be on a roll for a March miracle, but March has been a disappointment. We did receive 0.4 inches of rain and will possibly receive another 2 inches with the next two storms. We shall see, but we are quickly running out of time for this rain season. Unfortunately, two weeks ago we had strong north winds. These not only suck what little moisture we have in the soil, but also evaporate what little water we have in our lakes and streams. The strong winds also remove the water content from what little snow we have in the mountains. Right now, Mother Nature is not being too kind to us.
Back at the orchards, the apricots have finished blooming and have set a crop. There looks to be plenty of fruit set and the crop seems to be free of brown rot and shot hole fungus. Some varieties of peaches have finished blooming and the later varieties are still blooming. I don't worry about the peach fruit set; they always seem to set a crop. The cherries started blooming on the early varieties about two weeks ago, and the later varieties are just beginning to bloom. Of course, we have the bees out there with the cherry trees, as they need cross-pollination between varieties.
The walnuts are just starting to push, with the Serr variety being one of the earliest varieties to bloom. Walnuts have separate male (catkins) and female (pistillate) flowers on the trees. The Serr variety can have too much pollen and abort the small nutlets when the tree is setting a crop. So, we mechanically shake the catkins to the ground and apply Retain on the trees to reduce the amount of pollen and, hopefully, increase the nut set. We are hoping to have a good walnut crop, as there seems to be a good demand for walnuts.
On the issue of dormancy for deciduous fruit and nut trees, some pomologists I have talked to are now concluding that not only do the temperatures below 45 degrees contribute to dormancy, but that temperatures above 45 degrees take away from dormancy. It stands to reason, especially when we have lately been experiencing above-normal temperatures. Their conclusion for this year: We have had the worst year for dormancy in the last 100 years. This is perhaps why we are seeing uneven blooming taking place with the deciduous trees this spring.
It is going to be an interesting year with the weather. Farmers have to keep adjusting and plugging away in an attempt to provide food for the world.
By Sarb Atwal, Yuba-Sutter County orchardist
The peach bloom was excellent this year. The weather was favorable for the bloom and so far the peach crop looks adequate. Although it is too early to determine the size of the crop, it does look uniform between the varieties, which is always a good sign. We have been busy mowing and applying weed-control products along the strips and tying rope on the trees.
Our prune bloom has just concluded and the trees are now leafing out. We experienced several warm days of 80-degree temperatures, coupled with a dry north wind. However, the bloom itself was very strong and the bees had several good days to work. Interestingly, the bloom was fairly stretched out and not as sporadic as in years past when we had crop failures. We finished our fungicide and scab applications just prior to the rain. We remain hopeful for a good set, as the industry is strong and the demand is high.
We are finishing pruning our walnuts and have just finished planting trees for this season. The next step is to prepare irrigation systems and other orchard development functions for the growing season.
Our pecans are starting bud break, which is running about normal from last year. We have finished our mechanical pruning and are currently doing weed control.
We are all praying for more rain and snow and must remain vigilant with our water usage. Even though we are fortunate to have well water, this is the type of year to really conserve by utilizing irrigation sensors and leaf pressure to determine moisture levels. Best of luck to everyone this growing season.
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower
We're about 60 percent of normal precipitation up here. The good thing is that the late rains do benefit the vines. We're currently in bud break with all of our varietals, from the muscats to the zinfandels. All of our crop-care materials are ready for the season.
Our ponds are still quite dry. We don't have enough water up here. A lot of the people in the area will irrigate only one or two times this year, so we will be limiting our crop so that we can keep the vines healthy and produce good quality fruit. We're not sure what the freeze did from early in the year when it got down to 12 degrees. I believe that it was cold enough where we had some damage in our buds and I think we will have less of a crop because of that.
Other than that, we're in good shape. The grass is growing, which is good for the cattle ranchers. Fruit trees are in bloom up here, so the people that have specialty crops will have some nice items to sell at the farmers markets.
By Ed Curiel, Tehama County olive grower
Right now, we are doing some pruning in our olives and we are revamping old wells, because irrigation is going to be an issue this year. We have a zero allocation from our water district here in Corning, which means if we have an old well out there that we can make work, we are going to try to make it work. Meanwhile, we are hoping for more rain.
We are starting to see a lot of damage from the December frost. Now that it warming up a bit, more of that freeze damage is becoming apparent.
Olives are evergreen, but they do have some dormancy in the winter when they are not actively growing. It is when things start warming up that we see the growth again. Buds are now pushing out and that is when we start seeing the damage from the freeze—some leaves fall off, bare shoots and other leaves start turning yellow. We are seeing a lot of yellow leaves on the Manzanillo variety right now. There is less damage in the Sevillanos, and it isn’t as widespread.
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