From the Fields®
By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County cherry and apple grower
We are just beginning our cherry harvest and we finished thinning apples. Everything is compressed and cherry harvest is going to be pretty fast this year. It is going to be a very fast and furious harvest.
The cherry season is a mixed bag, depending on where you are located. There is no rhyme or reason for differing crop loads this year. We have a couple ranches that are as heavy as we have ever seen them and a couple ranches that are very light, with the same exact program. So we don't really know why the crop is light in one and heavy in another. Nonetheless, it seems to be very early. We are probably a week earlier than we were last year.
The size of cherries may be down a little bit from last year, but other than that the quality seems to be very good. We had a little scare a few days ago with a trace of rain at the majority of the cherry ranches, but there was no damage to speak of at all. And now we have to worry about heat.
We were OK with labor during apple thinning, but now that cherry harvest has started we are competing with other guys for that labor. Right now we look to be OK, so I am crossing my fingers.
As far as apples, we finished all our thinning. The Galas look like they will be the winners again as far as crop set. They are very nice and clean. It is too early to talk about size. Right now, Granny Smith is a little bit of a disappointment after last year. Crop size looks lighter. Fuji looks to be in the biannual cycle. Last year was more of an on year and this year looks to be more of an off year in terms of yield, and Pink Lady looks pretty steady. I would say it is better than average.
It is hard to talk about size yet, but the cleanliness of the crop looks very good. We are in a wait-and-see mode at this point.
By Marvin Meyers, Fresno County orchardist
Everything looks good except the water supply. The almonds look better than they did earlier. The nonpareils are probably the lightest of the varieties that we have out there. The California varieties look very good.
The bloom was weird. The nonpareils had a flash bloom. They bloomed and in a week they were gone. I think the drop has taken place because of the wind that we had and what's there looks pretty good, but not as good as we would like it to be.
The California varieties—the Buttes, Padres, Montereys, Wood Colony, Carmels—all look quite good. I think the crop is going to be a decent crop, but not a record breaker. The estimate is 2 billion pounds and the trade needs 2.2 billion just to fill the trade, so I think it will be in the ballpark.
The almonds are a little bit ahead of schedule. We thought they were going to be late, but that heat accelerated everything pretty well.
We have olives for olive oil and they look fantastic. The olive bloom was incredibly good. If they all stay on and make it, it will be a really nice crop because we have a nice oil deal.
Our pistachios are about a year away from bearing, so we don't have anything there. We have a few cherries that my son planted and he is very happy with those. They will be bearing next year.
Basically, our biggest crop is the almonds and they look very good. So far there hasn't been any explosion of insects. Everyone is spraying for mites.
By Carol Scheiber, Placer County cattle rancher
We're cutting hay, so that will get baled. We're also moving the cattle from different pastures and putting them around the buildings to clean up the grass around the buildings.
Right now the pasture looks good. We will be starting to irrigate soon. If it's a big field, like 80 acres or bigger, we usually put the cows in and fence it off so they only get a third of it at a time. That way, the grass has a chance to come back and then we hit it with water as soon as we take the cows out of there.
We didn't have a lot of rain last week, but we did get the north wind, which dries everything out. It was calm enough that it didn't hurt the grass too much, so as soon as the cows are off a field, then we start the water on it right behind them. We are getting our full water allotment of what we asked for, so that's good news.
By Chris Lange, Tulare County diversified grower
We grow almost all of the citrus varieties. We have finished our mandarins; we have finished our Minneola tangelos; we are about 80 percent finished with our navel oranges; we are finished with our lemons; and we have begun our valencia harvest. We still have star ruby grapefruit and some late navels to be harvested.
We have had a very fine eating piece of fruit. As the industry has indicated, the crop for most varieties of citrus was overestimated. I think that because of the lack of rainfall, the fruit didn't size as much as we had anticipated. The overall volume is probably down about 10 percent from the estimates. As a reflection of the early estimates, early on the prices were not as high because I think the buyers were anticipating a bigger crop. It is all supply and demand. I think it is going to turn out to be another very good year. It is probably because both quality and utilization are up.
We have Thompson seedless grapes and so far the vines look terrific. Some years there is a spring frost that damages the vines, but this year conditions have been great. I was looking at the crop yesterday and I thought it was the best crop I had seen in years. I am very encouraged about our upcoming Thompson crop that we do as dried-on-the-vine raisins.
We were very concerned about the lack of pollen with our olive crop. Recently, it is looking better than we anticipated, but it is too early to tell. You get a better crop when you just have normal weather. This year, going into a drought and occasional freak rainstorms and now a heat wave, who knows what is going to be left in a few months. But it is looking better than it did a couple weeks ago.
It has been a very good farming year. The permanent crops look great, but whether this weather will work to our advantage or disadvantage, we will just have to wait and see.
Currently, we are shipping cattle well beyond what we would normally ship and it is because our grazing land is extremely short. Fortunately cattle prices are still strong, so even though we are reducing our herd, in the short term it is a good source of revenue. We have harvested our oat hay that we feed to the cattle and we are off by at least 55 percent from what we produced last year. This can be attributed directly to the drought conditions. Recognizing that we don't have as much hay and grazing land, that is why we are shipping such a high percentage of cows and replacement calves.
By James Durst, Yolo County diversified farmer
Spring is in full swing with planting, harvesting asparagus, working in cover crops, irrigation and monitoring crops.
Excessively windy days have been trying on our mental health, with almost 14 days in a row of north wind. We all seem to be leaning a little bit to the south.
Asparagus harvest yields have been well below normal for existing plantings and new plantings have been carrying the brunt of production. Low yields seem to be a statewide phenomenon and we are not sure what cultural or climatic factors are involved.
We have our first and second plantings of fresh tomatoes in the ground and we have begun staking and tying them.
Grain crops look good and should be ready for harvest the last week in May.
Pest pressure is low at this time, with some thrips and cucumber beetles in snap peas and early cucurbit crops.
By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower
Spring is definitely here. After a great start to winter and snow levels above normal, the weather sure did dry up. While we did get good chill hours for the trees, moisture is nowhere to be found.
Normally we would like it dry for the pollination of the walnuts, but this year it may have been too dry. Even though it is still a bit early to tell, it seems as though the crop may be light and growers are talking that it could be due to lack of moisture. Time will tell.
As spring continues to warm, and winter pruning is done, mowing and fertilizing are in full swing, getting the winter weeds under control is almost complete. Without our normal spring showers, many orchards are on their second and third irrigations. The Sacramento River is very low and there are concerns there will be enough water for summer irrigations.
Meanwhile, strip sprays and insect monitoring are well underway.
Price for walnuts remains strong and looks to be good for this year’s crop. I am hopeful with such a low level of rain this spring that the summer will not be too hot, as we don’t have great sub-moisture for the trees. If it does turn really hot, we could be in for a long summer.
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower
Up here in the Sierra foothills, we are still only about 60 percent of normal for rainfall. For winegrapes, it can be a good thing, because the less rain you get, the higher quality you get. But the problem is that up where we live, with these soils we need a minimum of 26 inches to sustain a healthy crop, so we are concerned that we can keep our vines healthy and sustain them throughout the year.
So what we are doing to compensate is keeping the grass cut nice and short. When we did our pruning, we left fewer spurs, so we have less of a crop and less stress on the vine. This is one of those years where we are not going for quantity, but we are definitely going for quality.
Over the last couple weeks, we did have some damaging frost. It was enough to cause some damage on the young vines. Overall it is less than 10 percent damage, but it just slows down the growth for the young vines.
And that is what farming is about: You have the good times and sometimes you have some struggling times, but you just keep going forward.
This is the time of year that we are doing some budding on our vines. So if we want to switch over from our St. George rootstock, we are doing that now. This is the perfect time. My grandfather always said this is the best time of the year to be budding those vines, so you have to just hold onto your heritage sometimes to make a good product.
We do have a few walnuts in our area and the catkins are hanging heavily from the trees, so it looks like they will be having a good crop that is coming forward.
By Tyler Blagg, San Joaquin County diversified farmer
Our dryland winter forage crop of wheat, barley and oats is growing well. The dry weather we had in February allowed us to get into the fields and spray for a variety of weeds. The majority of the hay we grow is for our own heifers, to help reduce feed costs during the winter months.
We just moved our Holstein and Jersey dairy heifers out to the irrigated pastures. The pastures were slow to green, as the last couple of months have been cold and dry.
On one pasture, we just updated a portion of the irrigation system with new pipe and valves. We use irrigation timers to monitor our irrigation on each field, as well as to irrigate at the proper times to capture the best PG&E rates.
This has helped cut down on expenses. In early April, we received almost an inch of rain on the east side of Lodi and that was followed by a lot of windy days.
Most dairy springer sales have been fair, considering the current economy.
All of our heifers are bred by artifical insemination and pregnancy is confirmed using a blood pregnancy test. We have seen great results with this easy-to-use technology. We are currently in the process of rebuilding perimeter fence and adding a lane to move heifers more easily from field to field.
By Mat Conant, Yuba/Sutter walnut and rice grower
Rice is being planted as we speak. Guys are working our fields, leveling, fertilizing and preparing the fields for flooding. Then they’ll seed the rice with the airplane.
In walnuts, we’re doing some of our last blight sprays, we’re starting irrigation water, and we’re planting trees and trying to get all our cultural practices ready. It is a busy time of year.
Our water supply in our district is limited to 1.1 acre-feet per acre. This is what we voted to issue to the growers because we have to give up 4,400 acre-feet to the Bay Delta Settlement Agreement and also we’ve got to cut back on our amount of surface water. We expect our wells will handle this extra load without any problem.
Labor seems OK, at the moment. We’re not too short right now, but in walnuts we are more mechanized.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower
Right now we’re planting cotton. The weather has been pretty good for that. Tomatoes were transplanted about three weeks ago. The crops that have been growing since the fall are onions, garlic and garbonzos. They are developing well and should be on time. The almonds look good. We got a little bit of wind in the last couple of weeks and that probably shaved off the yield a little bit, but they still look good. We did have a field of pomegranates and those are being taken out—the market is completely upside down. So we’re going with winegrapes. It seems to be more favorable in demand than the pomegranates.
Of course it is a light water year, so people have been struggling with the water supply. We’re going to be fallowing some land as a result of that. It will be land fallowing similar to last year, maybe a little bit more; we just can’t make it with the well water and the canal water.
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