From the Fields®
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower
During the fall, the vegetable markets were pretty good. Almost everything across the board—broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, Chinese napa cabbage, bok choy and baby bok choy—was good. The lowest-priced item that we grow was celery, and it was in the double digits, which is a decent price, so we were real happy with the fall markets. We're kind of wrapped up after our big push for the Thanksgiving market.
The weather has turned cold just like most other places. We've had very hard freezes. We still have product growing in the ground and we've started to see a little bit of damage to lettuces, where we get epidural separation in the leaf layers. We have small, seeded plants in the ground and it could be months before we see any damage from that. A lot of our brassicas could start to bolt because of the cold weather. It's a concern, but it is not completely unusual. If this happened in the middle of summertime, it would be a big shock, but we understand that this could happen.
The biggest concern is with our citrus and avocados. There has been a warm inversion layer higher up, so our orchards that are up high are usually protected. For those on the lower level, we're keeping our irrigation on and trying to raise the relative humidity in the orchard. We've had to start our wind machines fairly early in the night to protect them. It is starting to cost us a little bit more. The duration is a bit long for our taste. We'll see how it comes out; you have to be an optimist. We'll hope for the best and keep our fingers crossed.
By Luke Reimers, Glenn County diversified grower
Everything is pretty bleak up here in terms of winter feed and as a result, we are feeding cattle pretty heavily. We are fall calvers, so we are working through marking all the cattle and getting them all ready to go out on winter pasture once it comes. But right now it looks like it is a minimum of a month out, so we have to continue feeding hay. I think everyone is in the same boat. The feed costs are hurting our bottom line, but luckily butcher cow prices are pretty high.
In terms of our walnuts, we are working to get our pre-emergences down and the weeds sprayed and preparing for springtime.
I can summarize the situation in a few words: We are waiting for rain. As of right now, we have a pretty bleak irrigation outlook as far as water availability for next year.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer
In our area, there's a lot of concern with the pretty low temperatures that we've been receiving this past week. Primarily the citrus folks have probably incurred some damage, but to what extent I'm not sure. Everybody is hopeful that it is not that much, but it's been pretty low temperatures. As far as the other crops, the frost has actually been good for almonds and getting the chilling hours in to get them dormant. That has not happened until now, so hopefully that will equate to a lower insect year next year.
The water outlook right now is that we are dry and we're coming from two years of drought and maybe into a third, and what that means is the CVP and State Water Project are going to be at zero or very little, if any. The problem is, it is now two years and the system is empty and the regulations are fairly steep, but we are tracking 1977 and that was extremely dry. It's a big hole to fill.
That means we will probably pump more groundwater, which is not a good thing. We've been doing that too much already, and we're just going to have to manage what little canal supply we have from one year to the next.
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
Out in the vineyards around Lodi, we will start pruning next week. People are expressing concern about the labor supply, which is unknown right now because a lot of people haven't started. Some growers may actually start earlier than normal because of the unknown labor supply.
The cold has been good, with good dormancy for the vines. The leaves are off the vines now and some guys are pre-pruning. No one has started weed spraying yet. People are planting cover crops. Some were planted earlier and they germinated, but haven't grown much because of the lack of rainfall and the cold weather.
We are having a dry late fall and early winter and as a result, we were able to get some extra field work done, including land prep for vineyard development. The dry weather was beneficial in that regard, but on the down side, we didn't get enough rain.
With our winegrapes, it seems like we had a good year. Both growers and wineries are happy with the quality. Overall, the production was about the same as last year. Some blocks were off from last year and some were about average.
And of course, everyone is doing the rain dance because we all need rain for so many reasons.
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified farmer
We have been very busy with our cotton picking. In a recent cotton variety field day, we had an opportunity to see several grower-provided field trials. These trials are invaluable for the information they provide in evaluating the ever-changing and constantly evolving seed varieties. Overall, this cotton crop had one of the best germination periods I can recall. In fact, some growers suspect we may have had "too good of a germination period" and thus ended up with greater than ideal plant populations.
All growers in the Palo Verde Valley agree that this was the most difficult cotton crop grown in the last 10 years. We had unprecedented insect pressure and initial indications of insect resistance to some insecticides. As this cotton crop is picked and ginned, the results will speak for themselves; however, I suspect yields will be off by 10 percent to 30 percent and grades will also suffer. At this initial stage in the ginning process, there appears to be a marked difference in higher grades from the cotton crops grown on the Arizona side of our valley. The Arizona growers had access to some insecticides that we California growers were not eligible to use. I will keep you updated on the results of the harvest.
Following this cotton crop, it's a mad dash to get wheat planted and irrigated before the irrigation district shuts off the water for two weeks for its annual canal maintenance.
By Nick Short, Stanislaus County almond and walnut grower
Here in Stanislaus County, the almond and walnut growers are in the process of all our winter tasks. We are in full swing of pruning the trees, shredding the brush and doing any groundwork that needs to be done. The temperatures have been very cold, which is a good thing for the trees right now. It helps them go dormant and we are hoping to get the right amount of chilling hours that the trees need.
We have started running our rototiller in the fields that have already had the brush shredded, which helps incorporate the brush shreddings and smoothes the orchard floors. This time of year is generally a slower time of year for the almond and walnut growers. We are servicing all our equipment and doing general cleanup around the farms. We have seen a little bit of rain, which has helped the local dairy farmers and others who have winter crops that rely on the precipitation.
By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower
The mild weather this fall in San Diego has been a nice change over the past few years’ cold temperatures and early frosts. Yet, these conditions can be a double-edged sword as they are ideal for plant growth, but are not cold enough to knock down damaging insect activity, namely thrips. One good cold snap should send them packing.
This time of year brings a change in the types of flowering plants we grow to cold-loving plants like cyclamen, cineraria and carnations. We are also busy preparing Christmas cactus, amaryllis and rosemary topiary trees for holiday shipping. Although a few of the crops came in a little early due to our mild summer and fall, most everything has been on schedule and looking fine.
This is also the time of year when growing space is at a premium. No sooner has a crop been picked and packed, when that same space is immediately filled with the next crop to grow. Whether it is amaryllis for Christmas, lilies for Valentine’s Day or spring cactus for Easter—there is a flowering plant for every occasion and season, and we are constantly producing to meet holiday shipping deadlines.
By Chris Lange, Tulare County diversified farmer
We have a lot to be thankful for, with bountiful harvests in 2013. We've just had a tremendous year.
Our raisin crop has been harvested and our production was up 35 percent from last year. The quality looked excellent. One of the benefits of a dry fall is we don't have to deal with fruit being downgraded because of rainstorms. But the raisins look really good. I read where the price is down this year, but I'm sure that the additional production and the quality will more than make up for the reduction in price.
We have reduced our cattle herd by about 50 percent due to the drought, just because there is not enough grazing land to support them. I just made a big purchase of hay last week—very expensive—and we're also doing supplemental feed. We transitioned our beef cattle operation to organic, so we'll see how that plays out. Supposedly, there is going to be a much higher return for the calves that we sell. My son has joined the operation and he is very interested in going in this direction.
Our olive crop is finished. The quality looks outstanding. We had the biggest crop in the last four years. The prices were very respectable and so we're extremely pleased with olives this year. We were surprised by the sizes that we had and the returns as they grade each load that's coming in. The grade really stayed up there the whole time.
By Tyler Blagg, San Joaquin County diversified grower
We just finished planting our winter forage hay. We would have liked to plant sooner, but needed more moisture.This meant waiting until we got our first rain. Who knew that it would be late November? With the recent storms we received over an inch and a half of rain, so we had great moisture to get the ground worked up and fields planted. We chose a three-way blend due to quality of the forage at harvest, yield and price. Last year's hay was sold to local ranchers and to a feed store.
This summer, we sold a group of dairy springers and now have a new group of heifers bought at a dairy dispersal sale. In the last couple of weeks, we moved the dairy heifers off the irrigated pasture before the rain. This helps to reduce soil compaction and allows us to leave the fields grazed at the proper rate. Since there is a shortage of winter ground leases, we rent a corral with a covered hay barn that makes daily feeding simple.
This summer, we planted a small petite sirah vineyard. We were able to get a long-term contract with a winery. It has been a true family effort from my father-in-law giving us advice to our children helping while we tie vines. It's a great place for them to learn and grow an appreciation for agriculture. This winter, the vines will be pruned and we will add crossarms. They will be trained to a quadrilateral system.
By Bill Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower
It was an early year. We were able to start two to two and a half weeks earlier than normal and that was terrific. And we had ideal picking conditions that continued until we finished a few weeks ago.
The thing that was amazing about this year was that the grapes tended to ripen steadily and evenly, so it made for a pretty orderly harvest. The earlier varieties ripened first like they should have and then it just progressed all the way through, versus everything coming on all at once like we earlier thought it might. So it was a smoothly transitional harvest from one variety to the next. And because the weather was so ideal and we didn't have any real heat spikes or any big rain events, the fruit ripened and matured really well. It didn't sunburn, it didn't raisin, it just matured very well.
It was just a very orderly harvest in which everyone up here had very solid crops of 5, 7, 8 or 12 percent larger than normal, depending on variety, which was really good. And the great news is that the wineries took those excess grapes and everyone was able to get their grapes to the wineries in the end because the wineries needed them and were able to utilize them.
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