From the Fields®
By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County turkey and walnut farmer
We're in what we call the fresh season for poultry now, and the industry is busy feeding birds in the field and looking for a fairly good season. Thanksgiving is a big part of the market, but it's all at one time and we have the rest of the year that has the majority of the cut-up birds.
The industry is still struggling to get numbers back after the huge AI (avian influenza) outbreak last year across the United States. Numbers are down. The poultry sector is trying to get enough eggs and poults and so, to grow birds out in the field has been a challenge.
On the good side, wheat and grain prices for the animal sector are relatively affordable. It is not so good for the grain producer because of the slide in the market, but there's lots of meat on the market as we've seen the other meat industries go to having oversupply and thus pushing down prices.
On the walnut side, we're looking for a nice, cold winter to make these trees go dormant, and to get the rest of our trees grafted for next year. We hope for rain.
We also have a club lamb business, so lambing will start here in the next three weeks, all the way through mid-spring.
By James Durst, Yolo County diversified farmer
Now that it's October, we have finished harvesting all melons. This leaves winter squash and cherry tomatoes still in production.
We have been doing soil tests on all fields and ordering fall amendments, mostly gypsum and compost. We have begun applying these amendments to prepped fields.
We are doing fall groundwork for 2017 crops and making two sets of cropping plans—one with surface water deliveries and one without depending on winter rains. I think this may be the new norm for us in California.
This has been a good season for us, with record yields and fair prices on most crops. We constantly are seeing pricing pressure from Mexico in the organic marketplace, where wages and benefits are substantially less than California. This also may be a new normal for us. But we are very grateful for all we have and the abundance that seems to flow from nature when treated with respect and good stewardship.
Pests have been light this season. We have expanded our pest management program over the years, relying more on crop diversity, release of predators, monitoring and trapping, and proactive application of pest control products that work more to create an antagonistic environment rather than actually killing the pest. Insects, like people, will always migrate to a better neighborhood.
Being in the fresh-market business, we hire many employees during the spring and summer months. We have looked on with dismay as the California Legislature and governor passed and signed into law overtime bills. It appears there is a disconnect between reality and good intentions in California government.
I am a firm believer in paying good wages to agricultural workers and we have strived through the years to be on the highest end of the pay scale.
But now, we will have to reinvent our wage scale in light of overtime rules.
Unfortunately, produce does not ripen on a five-day, eight-hour workweek.
If more people in government actually took the time to visit and understand the implications of the laws they pass, they would better represent the constituents of this state.
By Scott Hudson, San Bernardino County apple farmer
Our apple business is booming. We're getting a lot of people to visit us early. Ninety-nine percent of our apples we sell right to the customer and we also have a few local restaurants that buy from us.
The apple crop was, for us, a little bit harder to grow because we didn't have a winter. Our February average temperature—we're at almost 5,000 feet—was 63 degrees. We should have been a lot colder. The apples needed those chill hours. They just didn't get them. We still had some apples, but many were a lot smaller, color was off and some varieties we didn't get at all, such as our Romes. We have fewer employees, too. It's hard to get people to pick apples these days.
We've got 6,000 apple trees. As soon as they go dormant, we'll start pruning and getting the orchards up to snuff.
Our cider making is doing really good. We're just really hopping there. Our problem, which is a good problem to have, is we sell out just about as fast as we make it. We're working in an apple orchard and buildings that were built in 1898, long before they had forklifts and apple bins and all that, so we're tight for space.
We're going to plant some vineyards. We have 30 acres set aside to do that. At 5,000 feet, we want to make sure we get the right type of grapes. On down the road, we're going to have to build another building for the wine operation. We don't have the space to have huge tanks.
We're producing a lot of wine and everything sells out. It would be nice if we could produce more, but the fact that it's selling out, I guess that's a good problem.
By Chris Lange, Diversified farmer in Tulare and Fresno counties
Last week we finished our olive harvest, and we had a very good crop this year—about 4 tons to the acre and good sizes. So it's nice that we're finished with it, and it looks like the results are going to be very positive. Over the years, olives have been a struggle because of labor. We did not have a labor-harvesting issue this year. Labor was available, and I think at a reasonable price.
We are finishing up our valencia oranges; we should be finished by the end of this month. The prices inch up a little bit each week. I think we're going to do fine. We had pretty good production, and the size structure seems to fit into demand.
We have a cow-calf operation, and because of the drought and the lack of feed, we reduced our herd by about 75 percent. We plan to build back up to our previous levels. We do calving in the fall. We're about halfway through calving. Cows and calves look great, so that's another positive.
We grow Thompson seedless grapes that we dry on the vine for raisins. That harvest has begun. We have two vineyards. One looks like we're going to exceed expectations, and the other vineyard, it's going to be low. We'll just have to see when we're finished how we end up. We will be finished within another week or two.
I anticipate that we will begin harvesting lemons, limes and early mandarins at the very end of this month. Those crops, based on our estimates, look to be about 10 percent less than they were this past year, but until you really get in and harvest, you really don't know.
Navel oranges will begin in November, and overall, that crop looks excellent. Size structure looks to be very good for this time of the year, but once again our estimates came in a little bit short of what we had last year—maybe another 10 percent short. The fruit grows over the whole growing season, and we won't finish navel oranges until May, so if the fruit should grow into size, then we will have made up for early estimates where we've reduced the numbers.
With the cost of farming ever increasing, starting two years ago we began removing old orchards where either the trees were old and not producing up to today's standards, or the varieties that were growing there are no longer in demand. We have redeveloped a lot of our acreage, and this year we planted about 24,000 citrus trees to replace those that we had pushed out. I believe next year we're looking to do another 12,000 trees.
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified farmer
Almond harvest is just about wrapped up in this area. We have finished and crop yields look to be about 12 percent off from last year, pending final weight. The crop was very clean and very low in reject levels from insect damage, so that is good. We made it through the late summer and early fall without any rain, so that was good.
Right now, we are doing our post-harvest irrigation, repairing the sprinkler system and cutting back some branches so equipment can get into the field.
Prune harvest was the worst crop we have had in history, both here and statewide. We didn't even put the harvester in on about a quarter of our acreage. It didn't pay to put the harvesters in the field.
We got what I would consider to be about a quarter of a normal crop up here, so we will be collecting crop insurance this year. But with the small crop, the fruit was very large. So what tonnage we did have, we got top dollar for the fruit—but it still didn't make up for the losses that we had. We only ran our prune drier on day shift; we didn't have to run it 24 hours a day.
Up in this area, rice harvest is moving along and walnut harvest is in full swing.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer
We are on the last part of our almond harvest and the yields are mixed around the area—some growers are up and some are down. We are down from last year, but that was a big crop. It's kind of a mixed bag, but overall it looks pretty good.
We have finished our pistachios. Since we didn't have much of a crop last year, the trees really set heavily, so the yields are considerably higher.
We have wrapped up our tomato harvest. Some other growers have late fields that are still being harvested. Yields have been moderate to good.
We are preparing for defoliation of cotton in a couple weeks. So things are moving pretty fast as we get into the fall.
Water is still pretty tight. The federal contract is only 5 percent and they haven't delivered it yet, so we are hopeful they will be doing that soon. The state is at 50 percent deliveries and the Friant side is at about 70 percent on Class 1. So it is a decent recovery for those projects. The federal project still struggles with very heavy regulations that don't permit much water to be delivered to the pumps instead of going straight out into the ocean.
We fallowed about 1,500 acres, which represents about 20 percent of our operation. I have been doing that for the last four years, and it is all drought-related. The projects don't function very well in the dry years and really don't do well even in the wet years.
Labor hasn't been too bad at my operation. I know that some growers have had labor challenges. I'm not sure what the future portends now, with the new overtime law. We will have to see how that plays out long-term.
By Jim Gates, Nevada County cattle rancher
I just got done pulling out a 110-pound calf, and I got him alive. I very rarely have this happen. It took six of us to get that calf pulled out on the ground. We really had to put a stretch on this poor cow to get him out of there, but you don't have a choice, because he's got to come out of there or they're both going to die. If you do it right, you can manage this. So we're having babies right and left, not just that one. Calving is about a third through. So far, things went pretty good.
We're irrigating dry land to grow as much feed on the natural land as we can. We're finishing up the pasture irrigation and getting ready to do fence projects and water-system projects for the winter. Between irrigation and having babies, we're stretched right out. Last night when I walked in the house, it was a quarter to 11.
Fortunately, we have the Nevada Irrigation District and it's got one of the first water rights in the entire state of California. So we had a pretty good year for irrigated pasture here, because we didn't have any restrictions on our water. I understand they're going to try to put some on us.
We've been very water-conscious. The NID is going to finish the year with considerably above-average storage for the year, because everybody in the district has pulled together to conserve.
This year, I put in a gated-pipe system instead of an open ditch. It made a big difference. Everybody ought to be doing this.
By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County forester
Sawmills are starting to reduce their intake of logs. The loggers are trying to find new homes for their logs. We are still getting a lot of bark beetle kill on pine trees, and even on cedar and fir. Loggers are still staying busy and the weather is still good, so everyone is working. I have been doing a lot of fuel management and reforestation, and we will keep doing that until winter comes. Our main objective is reforestation, getting rid of some of that vegetation so the conifers can come back in. Basically, we are making big firebreaks.
Prices are about the lowest that I've seen for our timber. Part of it is that there is a glut of the pines, which has an impact on the market.
In our area, ranchers are starting to bring the cattle out of the mountains. Some of them try to do it before hunting season, to avoid any accidents.
By Bill Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower
Sugars are adequate or above adequate and generally, across the board, all winegrape varieties are ready. People are trying to finish up their chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and soft whites, which are all ready to come off. On the early reds, everyone is finishing up and moving to the mid-reds—the syrahs and merlots and malbecs. What is interesting is that the cabernet sauvignon grapes are also ready to come off. Everyone is picking good, average to above-average crops on the whites.
Generally, the labor situation has been fine. The biggest challenge is on the winery side.
With so many grapes ready to be picked, the wineries simply aren't able to take them in any faster. So with the full crop and everything compressed into shorter timeframes, the wineries are challenged in terms of getting everything in quickly enough. If they were able to take more fruit, certainly there would be concern about having adequate labor. But there is enough labor to keep things going at the current rate that the wineries are willing to receive.
Fortunately, as a result of the good winter and spring rains, other than those people who rely totally on reservoirs, there seems to be enough water to get us through harvest. There is certainly not excess water, but there is enough water and in some cases enough water remaining for a post-harvest irrigation.
The good news on pricing for the grapes is that this year there were buyers for all of the varietals and they were signing one- to three-year contracts, and in some cases five-year contracts, at current prices or slightly above. So while there wasn't a big price increase, the fact that there were buyers for everything you had and at the same prices or slightly higher than last year's prices was good.
By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower
For the lower desert, there is not a lot that is taking place over the last couple months because we are in the hottest time of the year. But we have begun the lemon harvest, which is one of the early harvests for the new fall season. That is progressing nicely. It is a crop that looks very similar to a year ago.
We are in the beginning stages of growing the fall melons. Also, broccoli and cauliflower transplants are just starting to go in. Most of the activity taking place right now is ground preparation and early planting. We have had very little summer rain. Most of the monsoons have stayed in eastern and central Arizona, so everyone seems to be ahead of schedule for the upcoming season.
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