From the Fields®

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County apple and timber producer

Apple harvest is underway and we're making good progress. Right now, we're harvesting Granny Smith and Arkansas black apples, which are dark-skinned apples, almost maroon. People love their crunchiness with a slightly tart flavor.

We had a 36-degree morning recently, but generally our mornings have been about 40 degrees, warm enough to not cause any problems with harvest. We hope to be finished with apple harvest in a couple of weeks.

One challenge we've encountered is this crop is somewhat larger than expected, which is usually a good problem to have, except we've been running out of bins and have had to slow down while we empty some out or get more.

Because the foothill apple crop is harvested so late in the season, we haven't had problems getting help. But we do have to pay a bit more because of workers' added travel costs.

We barely squeaked by with our water supplies, but we made it this year. Getting the crop through this year meant paying a lot more attention to water management, which is very time-consuming and labor-intensive.

Right now, I'm trying to beat the weather to wrap up some brush clearing jobs. We've been working in the Rim Fire burn area, grinding dead vegetation and leaving it in place for mulch.

There's been some discussion about whether mulch adds to the future fuel load or helps restore the soil. I think leaving mulched material in some places will help hold the soil if we get a lot of precipitation, which we hope will prevent damaging erosion.

In Stanislaus County, it's water, water, water. Groundwater is a hot topic right now and there have been a number of important meetings on this issue. I'm trying to stay on top of these policy issues on both counts to help represent our members' interests.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

The good news is that we had two inches of rain in our area, so the pasture is growing for cattle ranchers. Walnut harvest is in full swing and the walnuts are quite large this year. Our barbera winegrape crop was down 75 percent due to last year's fall frost before the vines were dormant, in addition to the two inches of spring hail. But that is farming.

Water continues to be a big concern in our area as it is throughout the state. Our water tables have really dropped, from about 350 to almost 700 feet. All we have is solid granite fractures; we do not have an aquifer. Everything we grow is on drip irrigation and everything is efficient. We are saving every drop of water that we possibly can.

Overall in our region, the grape crop was down 15 to 30 percent. The No. 1 cause is the drought. Ironically, the drought is going to set the stage for the best quality vintage since 1997. A light crop provides small grapes, and small grapes give dark color and lots of flavor—everything that our consumers crave.

In addition, the 2014 vintage marks the earliest winegrape harvest ever on record, due to the dry conditions and warm climate.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Sarb Atwal, Yuba-Sutter counties orchardist

Cling peach harvest began a week early in mid-July. Most growers experienced lighter yields in the extra-early and early varieties, while the late and extra-late varieties provided excellent yields. Overall, the fruit quality and size were ideal, given the lighter set and the above-normal temperatures we experienced during the growing season.

Labor was plentiful thanks in part to canneries allowing growers to mechanically harvest their crops. The peach industry is showing positive signs. Canners are offering long-term contracts for growers and some are even offering financing options to help develop new orchards. However, many growers are still reluctant to plant additional acreage, as the increase of minimum wage and other growing costs offset the increase in price and return.

The prune crop in Yuba-Sutter was decent. The prune set in the North State was below average, along with the crop in the south. Prune acreage is declining substantially even with the higher prices. Most of this is due to growers redeveloping those blocks into nut crops, which are quicker to produce and have proven to sustain a stronger market.

The walnut crop appears to be lighter than expected. The quality is excellent and so far we have had minimal issues. Most growers are finishing harvest of Chandler varieties.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Mark McBroom, Imperial County citrus farmer

We grow mostly lemons, mandarins and grapefruit. Our lemon crop is better than last year and markets are holding up really well. We're having a little trouble with labor right now, but we're still able to move across our crop at a near-normal pace.

The Asian citrus psyllid is causing problems because we have an infested area. Our county has its own pest control district, which has been very aggressive in attacking the challenge posed by this pest and the disease it spreads. We're satisfied with the response.

Our grower community is very educated about this problem and we feel our county is doing a good job. I serve on the state Citrus Research Board and the Citrus Disease and Pest Prevention Committee, and we're getting the latest information on developments with this problem and have a good sense of what's going on.

We're off to a good start with our lemon harvest, not quite halfway through. We'll start with seeded tangerines shortly and then transition to our seedless varieties about mid-December. Grapefruit, it's a fruit that's kind of been neglected, and the grapefruit market is always a challenge.

California grapefruit growers generally have a third place at the table behind Florida and Texas because of marketing reasons and perhaps some consumer acceptability issues. Our crop doesn't usually come off until about May and June. However, if an opportunity comes up, we have fruit that is pickable right now.

We had an average crop year last year, but we're hoping for better this year. Farmers are always optimistic.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

The relatively small amount of rice acreage we were able to plant in 2014 yielded reasonably well, both in quantity and quality. With the open fall weather we, like an increasing number of rice growers, opted to contract with one of the numerous outfits in the area putting up rice straw for various purposes, from dry stock feed to dairy cattle fodder to environmental purposes such as straw wattles, etc. When the rice industry moved into the era of sharply reduced burning with the passage of AB 1378 in the early '90s, many hoped that large-scale alternative uses for the straw would be quick in coming.

Ironically, the drought with which we are now wrestling has increased the demand for rice straw as a livestock feed supplement. Removing a large portion of the straw makes for much more efficient postharvest tillage, not to mention the fact that dependable water supplies for rice straw decomposition are limited and, in some cases, simply not available.

Here it is Halloween, and we've already been tantalized by a couple of storms right out of the Gulf of Alaska that looked really promising for the North State, but didn't materialize for much more than a shower or two. Driving through our big ranch out in the Colusa Basin east of Delevan, a large portion of which had to be fallowed in crop year 2014, it is a another stark reminder of how fragile our irrigated agricultural industry is in traditionally arid California.

Given the current condition of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, it appears that nothing short of an extremely wet winter and early spring can bring the system back even to early spring 2014 levels. It certainly can happen, as did happen in January of 1978, right on the heels of the drought of 1976-77. With the realization of any new water storage probably at least a decade away, it is difficult and painful to imagine what our farming operations may look like, absent a return to plentiful rain and snow.

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.

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