From the Fields®

Issue Date: July 23, 2014
By Keith Watkins, Tulare County citrus grower

We have wrapped up the navels, lemons and mandarins for the year. We are finishing up on the red grapefruit right now and we are still picking valencias. We are trying to find enough water to keep everything alive. We are doing a lot of pump repair because a lot of our wells are having problems. We also are doing a little bit of applying agricultural chemicals for red scale, as well as fertilization and whitewash for sun protection.

Our citrus crops varied across the board. Production was down and packouts were down considerably because of freeze damage, but we were able to get a lot of fruit packed because of the equipment they have for sorting with electronics in the packinghouses. Overall, citrus yields were down, but revenue was up as prices were very good on citrus.

We are applying chemicals before harvest in a lot of our areas because of the Asian citrus psyllid quarantine. It is an added expense, but I think it is very important. It will be interesting to see the numbers this fall and what kind of movement there has been. The next flush of growth on the trees is when you really find it.

We are depending on groundwater in a majority of our areas. We did buy some of the high-priced surface water through the Friant system in some areas where we don't have groundwater supplies. We are now seeing some problems with our shallow wells in some of the areas that have had historically good water supplies. So the groundwater level is dropping. We need a wet winter and some regulatory issues need to be resolved.

Issue Date: July 23, 2014
By John Amaro, Glenn County rice grower

Last week, we got our water regulated for the season. After July 1, under irrigation district rules, we can no longer spill any water out of the tail box of the field. It's been a long haul because of no-spill in the field. We're trying to save water, not only because the irrigation district is requiring it, but everybody's on the same page that we need to do it. We were always able to spill just a little bit of a metered amount out of the tail boxes through the summertime but this year, because of the shortage of water, they don't want us to spill anything. Of course it takes a lot more management, so that's been the big challenge through the summertime.

We've got everything pretty much set in the fields as far as water is concerned. Everything was planted a little bit later here because our irrigation district couldn't start flooding any rice fields until May 1.

I looked around the county and the rice crop looks good. I think harvest is going to be a little ahead of schedule because we've had a pretty warm summer. When we were out scouting for top dressing, the rice was ahead of schedule for the age that it was, so that is an indication that we will have an earlier harvest, which will be a big help.

We probably won't start harvesting rice until Sept. 20. We put half of our crop in bins, so we have to get it dried down more, but the crop is looking good as long as we've got the weeds under control. I was very happy with our weed control this year.

In awhile, we'll be starting to put a fungicide on, and that will be the last pass over the fields. It's been more of a struggle this year, but the crops look good so we'll see what happens. But of course, we've got two months to go for Mother Nature to behave herself. It's way too early to be counting your chickens. A lot of things can happen in the next two months.

Issue Date: July 23, 2014
By Rich Collins, Solano County diversified grower

There has been an additional five acres of hops established on our property and they are now trellising them, putting up poles and cables and then strings so the vines can start climbing. On the older hops planting, we have been fertilizing and monitoring for mites.

Two young farmers have established an operation on our property near I-80 with about eight acres of certified organic vegetable production.

Up at the other end of the property, we had sunflowers planted by our tenant, and while they were in full bloom over the 4th of July holiday we had hundreds of cars stop with people taking photos. It just shows the power of beauty.

Other than that, we have been busy picking blackberries for the past two months. My wife has been making jam and baking pies and crisps. We are doing U-pick, selling at farmers markets and wholesaling berries as well as selling to jam makers in the Bay Area.

We also established about one acre of native pollinator hedgerow with NRCS on some areas of the farm that we weren't farming anyway.

As far as the endive, we are busy establishing our fields and finalizing our acreage. We are working on water challenges as we get ready for season 31.

Issue Date: July 23, 2014
By Kenny Watkins, San Joaquin County cattle rancher and walnut grower

Right now, we are at the lull of the season. The hay has been harvested and the cattle market is strong right now. But grass is short, so we have been marketing everything at lighter weights than normal just because the feed isn't there. It doesn't make sense to hold onto the animals when the market is strong and the feed is short.

The lack of rainfall hurt us and we had to go through a lot of hay. If we get rain right now, it wouldn't really help us. So I would like to have the rain hold off until after the November election, and then let it rain. We'll see what this fall brings.

We have been downsizing our herd the past couple years, just because of the drought. The feed is less and less and the cost of hay is higher and higher, so it is time to cut the cow herd back.

We are getting ready for the fall harvest of our walnuts. We are irrigating and preparing for harvest. The walnuts look like a good crop this year, but we won't know until we harvest them.

Issue Date: July 23, 2014
By Scott Stone, Yolo County cattle rancher

A pretty interesting spring and winter we have just had this year. We made it through the winter months, but had to buy a lot of extra hay to do so. February rains helped, but it was too little, too late in a lot of places. We did end up with some grass and a hay crop, but most of our ponds on our mountain ranches have dried up and all will be gone by the end of the summer. We are seeing springs dry up that have never gone dry in the 38 years we have owned our ranch.

Our father Henry passed away a couple of months ago and that was a lot to deal with in the middle of the spring rush. We had 350 friends and relatives come out to the ranch and give him a great sendoff to the big cow pasture in the sky at the end of May. He touched a lot of people's lives in the beef industry.

We are very fortunate to have enough summer feed for our cows and calves this year, especially because of the drought. We are leasing a new ranch in the Minden/Gardnerville area of Nevada and have lost five calves since spring branding in June to bears, which is a problem we have never encountered before.

The weather forecasters are talking about having an El Niño rainy season this fall and winter; let's hope they are right for once.

Issue Date: July 9, 2014
By Stacy Gore, Butte County diversified farmer

The North State has had a reasonably good late spring-early summer this year. A few days of wind has held up some rice spraying, but favorable conditions the last week have moved the season along nicely with most being done by the Fourth of July. Water, like everywhere, is a concern and with luck growers will be able to finish the season without interruption.

In the almonds, we have already applied a worm spray, as there is some hull split in the north valley. Maybe not unusual for the San Joaquin Valley, but it is a little early for where I'm at. The crop looks like it will be good, but perhaps a little less than last year.

Dry grains have all been put to hay or harvested. A lot of the corn was as high as an elephant's eye, before the Fourth of July. Sunflowers are coming along, with some fields already having the males pushed down. Hopefully, temperatures will ease a bit for the last of pollination, as even bees aren't real happy about having to work in triple digits.

Issue Date: July 9, 2014
By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County apple grower

It looks like we will have a full crop of apples—Gala, Granny, Fuji, Pink Lady. It seems that the apples weren't affected as much as cherries with the lack of chill hours. The crop is healthy, and size looks to be on pace to be about normal. We have experienced some heat in the past few days and we are taking measures to keep the fruit protected. It looks like we are going to be OK there as well.

All in all, I think we are going to be looking at a pretty good apple season. We are about a week early from normal, whatever normal is anymore. I am anticipating harvest to begin around July 23 or July 24. The market is anyone's guess at this point. Washington state has had a couple big crops, but it looks as if movement has been good all across the country and I think we should start out with a pretty decent market for California. We should be able to at least get a head start on the Washington state crop that is predicted to be early this year as well.

Water is the wild card in all of this. We are kind of getting by and we are using wells in certain places that we haven't had to use in the past to supplement. We are probably going to be OK through this season. Another dry year and it will be a completely different story. Water is less this year than in the past and we have cut back.

Issue Date: July 9, 2014
By Chuck Nichols, Kings County nut grower

The most important thing for us is trying to keep enough water on our crops and maintaining the wells that we have. We are in the first navel orangeworm spray for our pistachios and hull-split spray for almonds is also going on right now. Beyond that, it is water, fertilizer, nitrogen, potassium, as well as boron for pistachios.

We are getting ready for harvest, making sure the floor is in shape for almond harvest and getting the equipment ready for both almond and pistachio harvests. Our almond crop looks very good. Our trees are young, but they are definitely producing a very good crop. How big it is, I don't know—I'm not great at estimating. There aren't a lot of almond plantings in this area, so I can't really say what is out there.

With pistachios, it is hard to know. We didn't have enough chilling hours last winter and so the bloom is very uneven and the maturity of the nuts varies, but once hulls start to split, then you can see the difference in maturity. You don't know how big that is going to be or how good the crop is. It looks good on the tree, but that doesn't always correlate to a good crop. When the maturity is variable, you may only recover 80 percent of the crop, but you can recover almost 100 percent when the maturity is uniform.

Issue Date: July 9, 2014
By Russel Efird, Fresno County diversified farmer

As July is upon us in Fresno County, we realize how fast harvest is approaching. Berry softening is or has occurred in all raisin and  winegrape varieties. Almonds are starting hull split with most NOW sprays either finished or are currently being sprayed, and walnuts progressing just as quickly. So if harvest equipment is not ready to go, then there is very little time left on the calendar to get this equipment ready for harvest. 

Watching the thermometer this week, temperatures above 100 every day and concerned about heat stress, we have been starting work at 5 a.m. every day since the middle of June and will shut down early on extremely hot days. Heat stress tailgate meetings are held weekly.

As with all farmers, water is a big issue, as the lack of winter rainfall continues, the dumping of the stored water and therefore no surface water or filling of reclamation ponds, water tables continue to fall at quite an alarming rate. When are our politicians going to realize that they have caused, either by action or inaction, this very critical water situation?

Issue Date: July 9, 2014
By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

This year has been a monument to the power of Mother Nature. I am really hoping and praying to get to admire the power of Mother Nature next year as she demonstrates her ability to rain. One of the challenges in this business, and I think one of the keys to success, is your ability to roll with the punches. I have changed management strategies to adapt to the drier weather. I cut my herd numbers in December when it was obvious we weren't going to recover from our dry start to the season. I have maintained these reductions, turning the cattle out on the grazing permits. I am focusing on managing the cattle to use the less enthusiastic water supplies first and attempting to save the more robust water sources for later in the season, so I graze the range more evenly.

We are almost done with our hay harvesting. I have another 200 round bales to barn and it's a done deal. Yields were down this year. In late April, I was debating whether or not to even bother cutting hay, the volume of vegetation was so abysmal. The quality of most of it was very good, but the density lacked. I am honestly not sure what did it. I don't remember there being any appreciable quantity of rain short of a few showers, but there was a burst of some kind of growth, and we went ahead and cut most all of the usual fields. A couple of the fields surprised me with an increase in yield over the hay I cut last year.

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