From the Fields®
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
As far as verasion, cabernet sauvignon is just starting; chardonnay is moving along and we are starting to do sugar tests; sauvignon blanc and pinot gris are around 14 or 15 degrees sugar; zinfandel is almost done with verasion. As far as the overall crop, some blocks look light, some blocks look normal. From my perspective, it will be a normal or below normal yield across the board.
Last year, we started harvesting some sauvignon blanc on Aug. 14; this year, I think we might be a couple days earlier than that.
The concern the last couple days is the ALRB and UFW notice to access farms (see Comment). We had a meeting a couple days ago where we talked about our rights and how best to deal with this. So this is a big concern, but not just here. I've heard that this is going on around the state, particularly in the Monterey area where the salad bowl is located.
Regarding labor, it gets more difficult every year to find hardworking, dedicated people. It is even more difficult to find the skilled workers to drive the tractors and harvesters and so on.
The market has been quiet if you have grapes for sale. There haven't been a lot of people fishing around, so that is a concern. Sometimes when a contract ends, what are you supposed to do? What some people are looking at as an alternative, especially with an older vineyard, is to change the crop, taking out vineyards and putting in all of these different types of trees. It makes economic sense. That has been happening a little bit on the edges of Lodi. The big thing is the cost of labor for a vineyard versus these trees. It is a huge difference.
By Greg Meyers, Fresno County orchardist
We are shaking almonds. I started on July 16, the earliest I ever started. These were five-year-old trees. Last year I started on the 18th and this year I started on the 16th. Go figure. It has been really warm. We had that exceptionally hot June and not a whole lot of winter. Bloom was probably a little earlier than normal. But last year I had bloom on Jan. 30 and this year it was on the 14th of February.
Some of the growers that I harvest for have been on well water for the past couple years, and their trees are suffering because of the poor water quality. I have another neighbor that started on the 10th of July. His trees have been on well water for four years now and those trees are fried. There are guys who are losing orchards. They will be pulling them out at the end of the year.
I pulled out 200 acres after last year's harvest and I have not been able to plant back. At this point, I have no plans to put anything back in because of the water situation. The land is going to be idle. I'll still have to pay taxes on it and that sort of thing, but it will not generate any income, that's for sure.
I have some pistachios in Mendota. They aren't producing yet. They look fine. I also have some high-density plantings of olives. They are on well water too, but they are very difficult to take out; they are pretty sturdy.
There's a lot of talk about El Niño, but you never know about the weather. If I ever go out of business as a farmer, I will become a weatherman. That way I will always have a job, even if I am 50 percent wrong.
By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer
The peaches and the apricots are about two weeks early. So far, the quality of the peaches and apricots is good. We had high heat early, which enabled the trees to ripen a lot sooner. We're going to be about two weeks early in general. We are anticipating the prunes will be ahead of schedule, and we're going to start shaking prunes around the first of August and almonds around Aug. 10. I had no idea there were that many prunes on the tree. We are having some limb breakage and we're getting crews in to lighten the limbs so that the tree does not break down.
Regarding water, we are OK with what is coming out of Solano Irrigation District. We had problems out of Yolo County. I was only able to get one irrigation and then a well we thought had gone bad, we put a diesel booster on it and have been able to get two irrigations out of it, so we will be able to squeak by. With other irrigation districts, things have been difficult; Clear Lake and Inland Valley Dam are at historically low levels.
We still have a very, very tight labor situation. We just don't know if there will be enough employees for the prune, pistachio, almond and walnut harvests. We're debating that maybe some of the guys that went to Napa to finish the grapes will be coming back, but labor is extremely tight. I don't foresee it getting any better for the rest of the year.
We are concerned about pricing on the walnuts because of the increased value of the dollar and because China has slowed down. We're probably going to have an all-time record walnut crop with a large carryover from last year, so that's going to put a lot of pressure on pricing. We anticipate that almond pricing will be good, maybe not as good as last year, but still good. Prunes are in short supply so we're anticipating a price similar to last year. But, with a very big prune crop, that may change.
We're all trying to hang in there and fight all of the issues.
By BJ Van Dam, San Bernardino County dairy farmer
Earlier in the year, we talked about the losses we had experienced, and how we had managed to make the appropriate decisions to begin building ourselves back up during the good times of 2014.
But we also mentioned our concerns about the construction that was encroaching on our property. As we're preparing this report, our road is now closed to through traffic, and will remain that way for at least six months.
Unfortunately, no one within the city or within the construction company feels any need to enforce these signs. This has led to a large number of vehicles turning around in our barn driveway throughout the day, every day.
Now, on top of our concerns about the lower milk prices, the future of the petition to become a part of the federal milk marketing order, and the regular everyday agribusiness concerns, we find ourselves worrying about our biosecurity. The random vehicles coming onto our property every day gives us reason to worry about just how secure our facility really is anymore, when it comes to biosecurity.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer
We have completed our garbonzo harvest, and the crop looks decent. We will be starting tomatoes next week. I am a little concerned about the thunderstorms as a result of Hurricane Dolores. The rain could negatively affect our tomatoes and garlic. The garlic is still about a month away.
Cotton is progressing well and developing nicely. There are some mixed bags around the valley in terms of how it looks, but in our case it looks pretty good. The wheat harvest is complete and the yields were average to above average.
Almonds are in hull split. Some guys around here are already harvesting almonds. I suspect that in the next two weeks, a lot of folks will be harvesting the nonpareils.
The good thing about these crops being finished is that we stop using water and that helps the situation.
The insect pressure on all of these crops has been more or less average, so we haven't had any heavy pressure.
They are talking about an El Niño; let it come. Whether we get the crops off or not, we need the rain. We can't be choosy now. They are comparing this El Niño to the one in 1997, which was a big one. And they are saying this El Niño may be even stronger than that.
By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County diversified grower
Some areas of the county have had surface water rights curtailed and people have switched to groundwater or have let things dry. You can put a small amount of water everywhere, and that is rarely effective, so what we do is allow some fields to dry up and manage the ones that we can irrigate as well as we can. We are finding ways to get by as best we can.
In Siskiyou County right now, the first cutting of hay has mostly taken place. Due to late spring rains, harvest was delayed and yields are heavy. Hay quality is off slightly, but yields are extremely good. Commodity prices seemed to have softened to a degree. Inputs on hay ground are high, but it looks like the price will be a little softer this year.
With livestock, the cattle prices seem to be very strong. The range feed in the high mountains looks good, but because of the lack of snowpack that feed may run out earlier than normal. When that happens, the cows come home and we go out on fields that would otherwise be hay. What we do right now is utilize the feed that we have. Our livestock numbers are down about as far as we want to go. I'm cutting back on sheep numbers a little, but if it gets wet next year, we've got to be ready to go.
We are experiencing some record high temperatures and we are forecast to receive more record high temperatures. We're absolutely hoping for some thunderstorms and some rain to provide a little relief from the heat and the water situation.
By Roger Everett, Tulare County citrus grower and beekeeper
We're definitely feeling the impact from the drought. We're doing our summer pollination work. We do some watermelons and cantaloupes, but their acreage is way down; they just don't have water to spare for those field crops. There are alfalfa fields that are getting very little irrigation, which means the fields are getting too dry to put out nectar for the bees. Cotton acreage is also way down.
At some of our bee locations in the valley, we've always relied on the nearby ditches carrying water as a water source. But those ditches are dry, so bees are seeking other sources of water such as at people's houses or places that could cause problems. We're actually having to put out barrels and totes of water to try to keep them out of those areas. We've had to put water out for the bees in places where we've never put water before. Because it's been so dry, we've also sent some bees out of state.
As for my citrus: Out of 75 acres, right now we're irrigating 16 acres. We thought our district had secured water for another 20 acres, but that water seems to be tied up in the Shasta decision for the temperature releases for the fish. The trees are doing all right for now. We did get a shot of irrigation to them, but then we had to stop irrigating. We have another 20 acres that we decided that it just wasn't worth the money to justify putting water on them. The 15 citrus acres that we are still irrigating are lemons.
In the area where I keep bees in Tulare County, I know one person who has lost four wells in the last three months and another guy who has three wells that are surging and probably five or six people who are trying to put in more wells to help their problems, so it's not great. But some guys are doing better than others.
By April Mackie, Monterey County vegetable grower
It's that time of year, when agriculture on the Central Coast is in full swing. Crops are growing, harvest is taking place and second plantings are going in the ground and starting to pop. Strawberries are doing excellent this season, with our crops being one month early due to the mild winter. The real test is to see if the berries will continue to stay strong and healthy all through the year, or will they start to die off a month early? We shall wait and see.
Vegetable crops continue to do well and many growers are experiencing healthy harvests. On the Central Coast, water availability is on the front of our minds; however, we haven't seen the adverse effects of the drought like those in the Central Valley. The only major side effect of the drought we have seen is increased salinity levels at the root zone. The natural rains are what really helps infiltrate those salts below the root zone.
We are continuing to plant and grow on the same ground as we have in the past and in fact, due to high market demands, we are even planting on new ground as well.
Many challenging regulations have arisen in the past few months. Paid sick leave is a huge cost to us as a grower and farm labor contractor, along with the recent increase in minimum wage. The increased heat stress regulations have pushed us to invest and design shade structures so that 100 percent of our employees will have access to shade on days when the temperatures are above 80 degrees. Let's just hope that the crops pull us through an extra month; we will need the profits to offset the increased regulatory costs.
By George Tibbitts, Yolo County rice grower
For California rice producers, the 2015 planting season began with great uncertainty. The biggest question was not whether or not our water allocation would be cut, but by how much. Finally, in mid-to-late April (planting time), we learned that most of us would have a 75 percent water supply. Some producers had even steeper cuts. Bottom line, the 2015 California rice crop now looks to be around 385,000 acres, down from the 500,000-plus that was the norm in the pre-drought years.
Now that we are into July, we've learned that our 75 percent water supply could be curtailed further due to water temperature considerations in Shasta Lake. Our water districts are scrambling to come up with a plan to somehow meet our irrigation needs, the salmon needs, and water quality (salinity) needs in the delta. While more groundwater pumping may help (not sustainable in the long run), I fear that we are not going to get through this summer without more cuts all around.
Meanwhile, while one might think that the market price for California rice would be skyrocketing due to the drought, that is not the case. While there is no surplus of medium-grain rice in the world (the kind we produce here), there is a surplus of long-grain rice. Some of our normal worldwide customers are switching to the cheaper long grain, which in many cases is subsidized heavily—tough to compete against that. Also, some consumers are switching to medium grain produced in the southern U.S. (much inferior in quality to our California product, but cheaper).
By Mat Conant, Sutter County walnut farmer
In our district, we are getting about 1 acre-foot of district water, which is less than half of what we get in a good year. Normally, we get close to 2 acre-feet. Traditionally, we irrigate with a combination of groundwater and district water. I tested one of my wells the other day and the water level was at 47 feet, which is down 5 to 10 feet from the same time last year.
The problem a lot of people are having right now is that they are pumping a lot more sand from their wells. With drip irrigation and microsprinklers, sand really plays havoc. As a result, a lot of people are being forced to put in sand media filters. This is a huge investment for what we are all hoping is a one-year deal. Hopefully, this drought won't go on much longer.
This is the time of year when we are irrigating and getting ready to spray for husk fly and other pests. This is a little slower time for some of us before the harvest season starts.
The crop looks fantastic. It is very clean. I think the crop is going to be big. I think we will exceed 600,000 tons statewide.
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