From the Fields®

Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

The walnut crop has been interesting this year. The prediction was for a big increase in production, with new orchards coming online, and the early varieties were up. The Serr variety was up substantially, but the Hartleys are down a bit. The Howards appeared to be down, but we found the nut meats were very heavy—edible yield is up. So it looks like a push in terms of overall yield.

We'll get into the Chandlers in the next few days and we'll have at least three weeks of work harvesting that variety.

Because we do custom harvest work, we look forward to the early varieties because they offer us the chance to get started on harvest.

Also, the different varieties are preferred by commercial bakers and different international markets.

I was in Germany and China and you can buy bags of walnuts at the airport. India has opened up its markets and so have Japan, Russia and Ukraine.

Price can be better for the early varieties, but it varies. Generally, prices to growers are up right now because of the increasing demand.

We were OK with water this year. We got 75 percent of our allocation and managed our water very carefully. We didn't want to run out.

But I'll be honest: I'm scared about next year, if Mother Nature doesn't help us out. When we're looking at zero water allocation to grow our food, that's scary to everybody.

Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus grower

Our groves are doing pretty well. We've cut back on water usage because our groundwater agency is dealing with cutbacks of about 25 percent. Reducing our water use to that is challenging with trees, but we've been very judicious in how and when we water, so we're getting through this crop year.

Our season has been strong. It's one of those years where fruit utilization is very high and grower returns also are good. The strong prices are the result of multiple weather challenges—in South America and last winter's freezes in the San Joaquin Valley.

On top of that was a serious lime shortage that caused restaurants and food service companies to shift to lemons. A bunch of different, unrelated factors have produced this strong price year for lemons. We're happy to see a good market, but we're cautious because we never know what next year will bring.

We are dealing with high pest pressure this year and we've had to treat more frequently. I have huge concerns about the Asian citrus psyllid. Everybody is waiting for the next shoe to drop—discovery of citrus greening. There's a tremendous amount of worry.

Treatments in quarantine areas have messed up integrated pest management programs. Treating for the psyllids has upset a very careful balance. For every reaction, there's another reaction, which drives up per acre costs. We can handle the increased production costs this year, but if it were a down year, that would put all of us growers in a tough spot.

We're still picking the lemons right now and we have crews picking the last of the fruit before the end of the month, because the packinghouse closes its books at the end of October. Everybody is trying to get all the good fruit that's left in the groves into the bins.

Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By Larry Massa, Glenn County diversified farmer

Conditions are still extremely dry in the northern Sacramento Valley, despite the recent shower activity. However, an isolated area in western Glenn County received eight inches of rain in an hour and 15 minutes. It was bittersweet to the landowners at that location, as it wreaked havoc with fences and caused some erosion and gullying.

In our operation, rice harvest has been completed. The yields were very good at the Massa ranch. Harvest was a little more difficult, as the rice lodged from some of the wind and early rainshowers that occurred in September. Early quality grades received are also very favorable. At present, we're chopping straw and disking in our attempt to de-comp straw. Within the irrigation districts, there is still some water available for decomposition.

We marketed calves in early September from our spring-calving beef herd, in an attempt to retain our cows due to the extreme drought conditions in northeastern California, where we lease summer grass. Those spring-calving cows currently have improved in body condition and will winter quite easily.

We are more than half-calved in our fall-calving beef herd. Those cattle are located in both Glenn and Colusa counties. We have moved and sold cattle several times this summer in an attempt to keep cattle fed, so that we can retain our breeding herd.

We had a bout of foothill abortion in our replacement heifer herd in late August and early September. Results from the Animal Diagnostics Lab at UC Davis confirmed foothill abortion on at least one calf. I am sharing this only because this calf was a fully developed fetus.

Our winter range is much depleted and does not have an abundance of residual dry feed. We have filled our barns with both grain and grass hay to supplement poor range conditions and plan to augment our hay supplies with some rice straw. Stock water also may be an issue, as cattle will return from summer pastures in November.

As we continue into the fall season, we are thankful for our plentiful harvest and the very favorable prices received for our cattle. Now, all we have to do is think rain!

Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

The almonds and pistachios are done and we are getting ready to pick cotton next week. Yields for the nut crops are all over the place; it's a mixed bag in terms of yields.

We're getting ready to plant garlic, but the challenge is the availability of water for next year. We're working with a very uncertain future in terms of our water prospects. It's difficult to plant, not knowing what next year will provide.

Our water supplies this year were slim to none and we've had to rely on groundwater, but it's not a sustainable source. This year, we fallowed about 30 percent of our farm and it will probably be higher than that next year.

At this point, there isn't any water available for post-irrigation and salt buildup is a problem. We've got a double whammy due to very little rain to push salts down and because of the greater reliance on groundwater, which is salty and it remains in the soil. It's a problem.

These are very hard business decisions. As we move into winter and the situation unfolds, we'll be making some very hard choices.

At the same time, our communities are hurting. There's concern whether there will be jobs. My own workers are concerned about my ability to maintain operations at a regular level. They know limited water leads to limited farming, which leads to job loss. The economic stress that's going on in our communities will only get worse until we get a reliable water supply.

Issue Date: October 22, 2014
By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We just finished our winegrape harvest this past week. Although we finished two weeks earlier than normal, the harvest season was several weeks longer than normal. We started quite early and finished early, but at the same time it was a longer harvest than normal. It was a combination of things. We had the warmest first six months of the year as far as temperatures go, and I think that was the driving force. I think the drought, coupled with a little lighter crop, also contributed to the longer harvest. Yields were down, depending on the variety, anywhere from 15 to 25 percent.

Right now we are rehydrating the soil, post-harvest irrigating and putting on fertilizer. The vines will store that as carbohydrates for the winter for when they come out of dormancy and break buds in the spring. Once irrigation is completed, we will be winterizing pipes and pumps and grading our roads and setting up the ranch to rest for the winter. We have a lot of shop projects and maintenance to do once the rains come, if they ever come.

Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Kathye Rietkerk, San Bernardino County greenhouse producer

Our poinsettia crop is coming along great. We managed to survive quite a remarkable heat wave—longer than usual and hotter than normal. Outside, not in the nurseries, it was between 107 and 111 degrees for days and days, which is highly unusual.

We've never had that kind of heat on the poinsettias before, so we weren't sure how they would tolerate it. We kept them hydrated and they came through. We didn't have any damage and we're quite pleased.

We rely on municipal water and our rates have gone up substantially. They have implemented conservation measures similar to other areas and we follow those measures. There aren't water use restrictions or water delivery cutbacks, at least not yet.

In the early 1990s we installed water conservation equipment and have been steadily installing and upgrading technology throughout the nursery. We've spent tens of thousands of dollars on water conservation technology over the years. There's not much left to do.

If the amount of water we get is cut back, then we'll have to cut back production and retire nurseries. There's a point where you can't become any more water efficient. That's a real concern.

We're not confident about the future. If we don't get rain and if we can't get water conveyed through the state and federal water projects to Southern California, I don't know what will happen. Already, 50 percent of our water for recharge basins has been taken away for the Santa Ana sucker fish and the area for the species' habitat has been doubled, without providing scientific justification.

We're worried. It's very difficult to predict the sustainability of the water supply and the outlook for our business, and those of others in agriculture, because we all depend on a reliable water supply.


Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We are currently in our eighth cutting of alfalfa.  Annual yield was about equal to last year, while demand has increased for high quality dairy and retail hay because they appear to be in short supply. A lot of rain-damaged alfalfa has flooded the market because of considerable rain we received in September. Some areas of the Palo Verde Valley received two times their annual rainfall during the month of September. New alfalfa plantings will begin this month.

The cotton crop has seen uncharacteristically low pressure from the brown stinkbug this season. Last year at this time, I was convinced the whitefly, brown stinkbug and lygus would be impossible to control. We lost 30 percent of our yields last year to the incredible bug pressure. Although control has been challenging, the overall pressure level has been manageable. 

I anticipate beginning to pick our crop by mid-November. I don't foresee a large increase in yields, but until it's picked, it's difficult to speculate. With the cotton futures dropping 30 percent since April, it's hard to get excited about planting cotton next year. 

We begin planting garlic the second week of October. 


Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Dave Roberti, Plumas County rancher

Like everywhere, water is a big issue. Water has been in short supply for most of the growers. The wells are being pumped pretty hard and surface water is very limited. This has reduced some of the crop yields.

Rain has made it a really difficult year for us, with untimely thunderstorms that damaged a lot of hay. As far as hay goes, everyone is pretty much wrapped up for the year. A few people have a little bit left. It has been a mediocre year for the most part; not great, but not horrible. Fortunately, prices are high and that helps to cover the costs. We typically get three cuttings. Most of our hay is dairy quality and it goes to Modesto- and Turlock-area dairies.

For the beef side of things, pastures are short because of the drought. The ranges are not in good condition, but we are surviving. Everyone is praying for early rains this fall to get some feed going. 

The King fire has been pushing a lot of smoke into our area, making air quality very poor with visibility down to a half mile. The smoke has been a real problem with growing issues, because when you don't have the sun, things don't grow. 


Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay grower

We're an area that heavily relies on snowpack to supply our groundwater basins, but we had between 0 and 8 percent of our snowpack last winter, which set the stage for the start of our crop year. Many people's wells went dry or they had issues with them. But, some parts of the aquifer remained at almost normal levels. It's hard to understand.

We got through this year, but with our third hay cutting we were heavily impacted by smoke from numerous wildfires, with acres burned around us at more than a couple hundred thousand. All that smoke prevented the hay from drying as quickly as it needs and that affected quality.

If hay sits in the field too long, that's detrimental to price, but this year demand has been strong, so we'll have to see how we come out. But the smoke slowed everything down and the last cutting was lighter than normal. It's always a quantity/quality trade-off, but it was more extreme this year.

This year, there are a number of sunflower acres grown for seed in Scott Valley. I'm involved with harvesting—on my farm and neighboring farms—and we've been cutting and shipping the crop out for cleaning and processing.

The crop was incredibly healthy, and we're optimistic about prices, but with the dry conditions and hot temperatures, the early planted male plants were slower to germinate and pollination timing was off. Our yield was lower than expected.

In coming weeks, we hope for fall rain to allow us to do some tillage and prepare fields for winter planting of grain crops. We like to have a winter crop planted by Halloween, so we need to see 2 to 3 inches of rain between now and then. 

We'll also be securing things and getting ready for the winter. I'm always watching the weather, because of farming and because I'm a private pilot. Weather predictions keep lessening El Niño and now show us right on the cusp of the effect.  We'll have to see what develops with this winter's snow and rain.



Issue Date: October 8, 2014
By Joe Martinez, Yolo County nut producer

We've wrapped up almond harvest. It came very early, at least two to three weeks early.  Most growers in our area experienced lighter crops than last year. It may be due to drought or lack of winter chill. There isn't a clear answer. Maybe it's lack of deep moisture. There's no one discernible factor, but the crop is down statewide.

Now, we're shifting to the walnut harvest. I hope the rain we had about a week ago will help with hull split and the harvest progression. It's hard to judge walnut yields by looking at the trees, but I think it's a good crop, not a bumper crop.

Fortunately, because we're  looking at shorter crops, prices are strong. Some farmers are down 10 percent; others say they're down 40 percent. It's all over the board. But in some cases, prices can make up for the shortfall in yield.

The agriculture wells in our county are barely hanging on. We got through to the end of the irrigation season this year, but a lot of farmers were lowering bowls and many are pumping sand. My personal well experienced a big drop in yield.

All we can do is pray for rain. We need above-average rainfall to replenish the aquifer. If we have another dry year, I don't think wells in our area will hold up. 

We're just trying to get through harvest now. Then we'll shift to pruning and planting new trees—normal fall chores. The only thing I can do now is hope our wells hold out and we can keep our trees alive. Really, there's nothing else I can do. The truth is, we're in big trouble.


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