From the Fields®
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.
By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower
Its been a couple of years since I reported on San Benito County. The two primary fruit tree crops, bing cherries and Blenheim drying apricots, both came two-plus weeks early and then left as a bust for the cherries and a really good-quality 'cot crop that was as light as it gets.
The cherries set a very light crop on the older trees and an average crop on the younger trees (younger trees do better with less winter chilling hours), but regardless that nice early May two-tenths of an inch of rain split enough of the fruit that the crop was beyond salvage.
The apricots were large and sweet and made great dried product, but the yield was so low that the increased value for quality fruit will likely not offset the lack of tonnage. Cutting 'cots was always a July 4th spoiler for the student summer workers, but this year we were done by the third week of June. As a side note, a lot of people that grew up in the county who are now 40 years or older remember during summer vacation as their first job cutting 'cots. Between the 50 cents a tray filled with apricots sliced in two combined with picking prunes in early September at $5 a bin, I was able to buy my Schwinn Stingray.
The winegrape and walnut crops are promising. While statewide acreage of walnuts has caught up with demand, lowering prices, organic walnuts are still in demand. Winter runoff recharging our groundwater has left us in decent shape.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower
In our area, we have just completed wheat harvest, and dry bean harvest is nearly completed. Tomato harvest will begin next week, and the week after that we will be harvesting garlic. Two or three weeks after that, we will begin shaking the almonds.
The pima cotton looks really good. The bolls are setting well and we are hopeful for an uneventful harvest.
Everything seems to be on an early start, and yields range from average to above average. The pistachios will be coming on a little later in the year, as well as winegrape harvest.
With the crops we have harvested so far, the quality has been very good. The protein level in the wheat is up and the dry beans are coming in very clean.
Water remains very tight. We are purchasing some water and using our wells extensively. On the federal project, we have only gotten 5 percent, which is in contrast to the state project, with those farmers getting 60 to 65 percent. The federal project has a great amount of difficulty pumping the water from Shasta down to here, and it is mostly all due to regulatory restrictions that are in place.
We fallowed up to 1,500 acres again this year and this is our fourth year in a row of doing that. It is simply because we don't have any surface water deliveries.
By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer
We are doing our last irrigation on our almonds and we anticipate that we will start our harvest around the first of August. We don't have a huge crop, but it will be a good, above-average crop.
On the walnuts, we are in the process of doing our codling moth and husk fly sprays. We will continue to irrigate and fertilize and then we will start ground preparation. I anticipate that everything is probably going to be about two weeks early. I know that the few peaches and apricots that we have were 10 days earlier than normal.
We have a very light crop of prunes here in the Winters area. There are some orchards that probably will not be harvested. It will be a light crop. I don't know if we can get a ton to the acre dry. It looks like we will be harvesting the almonds before we start on the prunes.
The pistachios are also going to be early. We seem to have a better crop this year than last year, and so we are trying to finish up the irrigations. It looks like that harvest will start around the end of August.
Labor is extremely short and I am very concerned that I might not be able to have a 100 percent harvesting crew. Fortunately, the prunes will be a very short crop, but in the almonds and walnuts and pistachios, I am very concerned about whether I will have enough labor.
We are basically paying $11 an hour at entry level, which is above the minimum wage. I am not going to get into a bidding war, paying higher and higher wages to try to rob people from other farmers, because I don't believe that the people are there. So that is a major concern.
By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator
The Central Coast is alive and at the peak of the season with strawberry and vegetable production.
Strawberry harvest is saturated and, as a result, prices are down. Surprising that acreage is down overall from a year ago.
Vegetable harvest is consistent and without surprise. Given regional markets are coming on, I think we can expect flat prices, barring any major weather events.
Monterey County nursery crops are seeing better movement thanks to a wetter winter.
Having just hosted Steve Forbes for the 2016 Ag-Tech Summit in Salinas, optimism and pride is high in the Salinas Valley.
By John Ellis, Kings County farm commodities sales manager
Processing tomato and safflower harvest started in early July and are going smoothly. The wheat harvest is finished in our area. Too soon to tell yield and quality for the tomatoes and safflower, but we are hopeful that we will have good crops this year.
Cotton growers are monitoring their crops for pests and timing their irrigations to maximize their yields. With the warmest months of the year here, farmers are adjusting their employees' work schedules as much as possible to avoid working times when temperatures are high.
Some neighbors are deep-ripping soils to get ready to plant permanent crops. I noticed this happening at a dairy where there were no more cows in the barn. This is a sign of continuing economic tough times for this important industry.
Kings County's top earning commodity in 2015 was milk, so our local economy truly depends on a strong dairy industry. The dairies rely on corn for silage as one of their primary food sources and that crop is currently at all stages of growth, from just planted to getting close to harvest.
I also see a lot of sorghum planted as well, a crop that can be grown successfully and which uses less water than corn.
I know farmers are hopeful that more storage can be built to help us get more water for our areas.
By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower
We finished planting our last fields of rice the last week in May. This year, we were able to plant all of our acres to rice—unlike the past two years, where we were unable to plant 40 percent of our land due to the drought.
It is great to see everything green again, along with all the wildlife that is flourishing in the different rice fields.
Since planting, we have been scouting the fields and monitoring the stages of growth to make sure our timing for herbicides, insecticides and fertilizer are done at the right time for the crop. So far, all the fields are looking great. We have had some cool days, but over the past week, the temperature has increased, which has really been pushing the rice out of the water.
We are winding down our ground applications of herbicides and getting the water set on the fields as they begin the process of heading out. Also, we are monitoring the color of the plants to make sure the nitrogen levels are sufficient. We have been top-dressing fields with fertilizer based on our observations.
As the plants start to mature, we will get a good handle on harvest timing, but we expect to start harvest about the 10th of September for the fields that were planted to short-grain varieties.
By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower
Labor is extremely tight right now. That's our biggest challenge. There's such a demand for pickers that it's hard to get full crews.
Workers will go to labor contractors and be gone at the drop of a hat. We don't know how many workers to count on. The workers often jump crops, like to berries. And some of the workers we usually see have gone back home.
We've completed our first big lemon pick. The second pick is harder because there's less fruit per tree.
The other interesting thing with lemons is that the prices are strong right now, comparable to last year.
Avocado prices also have increased tremendously—up 30 cents from one month to the next. Mexican exporters were sending tremendous amounts of fruit to U.S. markets, then backed off the volume. That supply gap was unexpected.
Right now, we're picking hard just to get all the fruit off. The recent 100-degree temperatures put fruit on the ground. Avocados don't like it when temps go above the 80s.
Water is always an issue. There's a lot of discussion going on in the western part of the county about dropping groundwater tables because there has been virtually no water coming down the Santa Clara River, so there have been no diversions for agriculture. But availability is always about where wells are located.
In the northern part of the county, we aren't as severely affected because we have water that comes in from the treatment plant, which holds our water table a little higher, although the treated water adds more salts.
Now there's a lot of discussion about how much groundwater should be removed, and that becomes contentious.
The other difficulty is the water that should have been going into storage in Diamond Valley Reservoir wasn't moved south. Instead, it was sent out of the delta to the ocean. All of our reservoirs are terribly low. It makes no sense.
By Pete Belluomini, Kern County diversified grower
We’re winding up our summer potato harvest in Kern County, finishing a little earlier than in years past, in part because we’ve had to reduce acreage. Like most of the potato growers in our area, we cut out our russet crop.
Thankfully, water supplies haven’t been as painful as in the past couple of years. I can’t complain about that.
But the markets are another story. The Northwest growers have pretty much overrun our russet market and there aren’t the prices we need to grow them. That’s for the conventional crop. We’ve still got organic russets and the prices are still viable.
Overall, however, Kern potato acreage is down. It looks like it’s going to be a hot summer and that’s tough on the crops, so farmers have been harvesting early.
I’ve got my niche crops going in the surrounding mountains, so they’ll be ready in the fall, in time for Thanksgiving.
I’ve got white potatoes for the fresh market, perfect for clam chowders and mashed potatoes. We’ve also got some reds and fingerlings in the ground. I’m happy about that so far.
We don’t have much competition in the fall because growing conditions in the Northwest and Northeast are getting cold and wet. Russets store, but we’re growing for the fresh market.
I’m telling consumers we’ve got potatoes now for salad, and I’m getting ready for the days when people pull the sweaters out of the closet.
Labor is a problem constantly on my mind. While we have a pretty good supply of workers, the hourly rate keeps going up. Our legislators raise the rate and our costs go up, and we can’t do anything about it. It’s discouraging.
Fortunately, much of the potato crop is harvested by machines, but that’s not true for the other crops we grow on the farm.
By Kulwant Johl, Yuba-Sutter County peach, prune and walnut grower
Peach harvest is just starting. The peaches look good. Some of them were hurt with hail, but mostly they look pretty good—yield and quality. We're just getting ready for harvest, making sure the peaches are irrigated.
Prunes, we had no crop. Fruit just didn't set this year. I thought we had perfect weather, but they still didn't set. I harvested, but the crop was very light. I have insurance. Our county had a disaster declaration for the hail damage, but that doesn't really do anything unless Congress approves a disaster program. We qualified for loans, but I have insurance for the prunes and I also have it for the peaches, of which I have a good crop.
The walnuts look good. The walnut crop is very heavy. We're spraying for the codling moth and just monitoring for insects and diseases. Disease pressure has been low this year because we had good weather; we didn't get the late rains. So is the insect pressure. So far, it's not very high.
The high heat does hurt some, because when you have 100-degree weather, the peaches don't grow in size. With walnuts, they sort of burn up with heat. In walnut groves, they're spraying sun guard on the outside rows so they don't get burned. With peaches, you just make sure you keep irrigating, because when it's hot, they use more water.
Peach prices are good, but walnut prices are down. It hurts our bottom line, but we have to live with it.
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