From the Fields®
By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower
Everything on the farm continues to keep pace with signs of an early harvest, as it has been with other crops around us. Olive bloom actually started a month earlier than the traditional full bloom date we set as May 15.
An early harvest is always welcome on the farm, as traditionally the bulk of our harvest, for the type of oil we want to produce, is December and January and rough weather can see crop loss. Certainly we're hoping for an early harvest and then a stormy, wet winter.
The past few weeks have seen the olives come out of their midsummer heat holding pattern and really start to put on the size. It should be a great year as far as yields, and perhaps one of those great years where the excess olives we produce, above the needs of our own olive oil use, finally see a good per ton price in the oil market.
We have had a lot of inquiries on the farm recently about the availability of bulk olive oil and certainly hope that demand carries into harvest.
Our Meyer lemons are starting to color, but it looks like it will be a short harvest compared to a record yield last year. We primarily grow them for use in our lemon olive oil and then rely on our farm friends in the south state to make up any shortfall with our crop.
By Chris Lange, Tulare County diversified grower
We have been getting by the drastic water cuts because we have well water, some district water and, when opportunity arises, we have been able to buy expensive spot water. We are using every water resource to maintain our farming operation.
Like so many California growers, we're taking measures to reduce water requirements and, as a result, we're pushing out old, low-producing acreage. Our future plan, when water becomes available, is to develop higher-producing orchards.
We have started our olive harvest, which looks better than the 2014 crop, with improved prices. The "Catch 22" is shortage of labor and increased labor harvest costs.
Overall, we're optimistic. Our Valencia crop is wrapping up with decent production and prices. Soon, we will be looking at our mandarin, lemon and navel orange crops.
They appear to be maturing two weeks before normal. Quality looks very good and size structure and early maturity tests look excellent.
Dry-on-the-vine raisins appear to be about 20 percent above last year's harvest. Even with our reduced cow/calf operation, cows and bulls look good. Calves are being born every day.
There isn't much feed on our hillsides, but our winter oat hay was about average and is handling the feed needs with our reduced herd. We're hopeful for the future.
By James Durst, Yolo County organic grower
Summer crops of melons and tomatoes have been good quality, and sales and pricing are strong with demand exceeding production, even with high yields.
We decided to increase harvest wages for the second year and this has resulted in steady harvest crews with little or no attrition. Our goal is to attract the best pickers and pay them the highest wage possible, to reduce turnover and keep morale high. Employees are the greatest asset we have.
Water has been less of an issue this year. And with small surface water deliveries, we have been able to keep a steady irrigation schedule with both pumps and surface water.
As we move into fall we are extremely busy, with multiple harvest fronts at one time and days are full with harvest, ground preparation for 2016 and wrapping up year-end business. It is a time to be grateful.
By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower
We're done with harvesting avocados and lemons. We might get a small avocado pick before the packinghouse closes its books, but other than that, it's a quiet time for us.
We're keeping busy though with irrigation upgrades. We're ever more vigilant and judicious with our water use.
We're in the process of putting in two new weather stations that will electronically monitor soil, temperature and humidity to better manage our water use. Other growers in our area are using advanced monitoring systems in their groves.
I'm particularly interested in remote temperature sensors so I can keep track during cold spells. One of the things that goes along with the system are sensors to track irrigation needs. So we'll get multiple benefits when the system is operational.
The other day, we worked on installing the system for four hours and we were on the phone with tech support. I'm an old dog, and getting technology to work isn't easy. There was a lot of cussing by the consultant helping us.
Another area of concern where we think technology might help is security. Growers in my area are looking at installing remote cameras at all entry points to their property so they can monitor activity in real time. We're considering that option, but it's a whole different subject.
Our production levels have been good and growers' prices have been steady. Two years ago, we had a hot spell in our area just as avocado bloom occurred. Because our trees are at a higher elevation and are more accustomed to higher temperatures, the heat didn't seem to affect our trees.
That was not the case for growers in the lower elevations near the coast. As it turns out, we had good yields this year, even though production in our area was generally lower.
But the agricultural picture overall in Ventura County isn't that good. There's no water and people have been scrambling trying to activate old wells and the pipelines and creeks have dried up. It's hard to make it when you're fallowing ground. Everyone is wondering when the next shoe will drop.
By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County diversified grower
We still have processing tomatoes to harvest, about 200 acres. We grow under contract, but get a premium for late-season tomatoes. The canneries will probably run to mid-October.
We had some rain and that could be a factor on what's left of the crop. It depends on what happens with the weather. If the wind comes up and it doesn't get too warm, we might not get much mold. It all depends on the weather the next few days.
When we start to see mold as we harvest, we know it's over then. It depends on what levels the cannery will accept.
Processed tomatoes are a globally traded commodity, and I think the canneries have more than they need and they're hoping for rain. They're talking about 14 million tons of tomatoes under contract across the state, and that's a lot of tomatoes.
The drought really hasn't caused a shift in planting location because of water. The canneries have been planting and harvesting in many locations. Farmers who've traditionally grown tomatoes are set up for the crop—they have the equipment and a lot of experience.
When the grower price is $80 a ton, farmers make a profit. But if it goes down next year, then the question is whether the margin is there, or is it a case of trading dollars? It's hard to get a good crop all the time, and that dictates whether tomato farmers make any money.
We've got walnuts too, and the prices have come down. I've been growing walnuts a long time and I'm not going to get out of it. Even with lower prices, I think we'll make some money.
The drought has had an impact. We fallowed about 200 acres this year. We planted hay and harvested an early cutting, but then let the land go fallow because we didn't have enough water to keep going.
By Scott Hudson, San Bernardino County apple grower
We're up in the mountains and we didn't have a winter this year. We didn't have one last year, but this year was even worse. We didn't get the chill hours, which affected the fruit. Some apple varieties didn't take at all. Some varieties are on a second bloom and the apples are the size of marbles and are probably not going to get much bigger. Some varieties are taking longer than normal to ripen. We're not getting the crops that we normally would get.
We have plenty of water from the springs and wells here in the mountains, but we did not get a winter, so it is a lack of chill hours, plus we had the hottest spring ever. We are at an elevation of 5,000 feet, and temperatures got up to 106 degrees and then dropped back down to the 60s. The trees are totally confused. We have to buy cider fruit because we can't grow enough cider apples and those growers are having the same problems.
On the agritourism side, business is up. We are very fortunate. We make cider, apple-cider donuts, sell gifts and we now have a winery. Customers are coming in record numbers, so that is a good sign. The size of the crop is not the best, but we'll have apples. We'll go to Dec. 1 or maybe longer, depending on our wine sales. Our wines are selling out, which is very encouraging.
By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester
We're winding things up for the year and hopefully we'll get some rain toward the end of the month. We're looking at a potentially bad fire year here in our area in Mendocino County. Usually late September, early October is the time when we have the lowest humidity and wind, so everybody has to be paying attention to that.
The most important thing is to make sure that your house and any of your structures have defensible space around them. That's really important; I can't say that enough because if you don't have defensible space and you have a fire, there's just really not a lot that people are going to be able to do to get the fire out. That's No. 1. Then, we always need to pay attention to ignition sources. We need to prevent ignitions from happening. It is the Smokey the Bear message that only you can prevent wildfires. If we don't have ignitions, then we don't have fires. That is critical, and most fires are caused by people and you just really have to be paying attention out in the woods.
Also, make sure that your equipment has the leaves cleaned out from the manifold on the engine—that's a common place for fires to start. Something else is to make sure that you have fuel breaks in the woods to ensure that if there is a fire, you have some way of containing it.
Regarding the timber market, the export market has really weakened and that is because the demand in China has weakened. That has hurt Douglas fir prices quite a bit. That hasn't yet carried over to redwood prices.
I just need to add that I'm lucky to be doing what I am doing and I feel blessed.
By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
Here in the Lodi area, as far as the winegrapes, harvest started off extremely early, the earliest crop harvested on record. We actually started July 27 and never started in July in the past. Typically, if there is a normal year, we would start around Aug. 20. So far, the quality seems to be very good; the crop is average in size. The majority of our winegrapes are machine harvested. There are a lot of older vines that require hand picking and I am hearing that there is a shortage of labor for the hand-picking crews and this adds to increased costs.
As far as water, we have been OK. We are able to use some surface water in some areas and some well water. Most of the vineyards are on drip irrigation.
One of the challenges as far as harvest is that while in a typical year chardonnay starts first, this year we are picking chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at the same time, which is unusual. It makes it more challenging at the winery to handle whites and reds at the same time.
We harvest mainly at night and we could see the red skies glowing to the east of us with the fires in the foothills. Our hearts go out to those affected and the struggles they are going through. It isn't just the Butte fire but all fires.
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower
We are just coming off of a hot period in the weather. We are at the end of our seventh cutting of alfalfa, which is about on par with what we get each year. We might be five days ahead in heat units for alfalfa from last year’s crop, but it is very close to the same. Yields are right around historical averages.
As far as cotton, over the last two years we had an unprecedented brown stinkbug epidemic. We decided to not treat for them at all this year and we went from 1,000 acres of cotton to 100 acres of cotton. Adding to the challenge is that right now the whitefly pressure is horrendous.
We are getting ready to plant potatoes, garlic and onions in the next three weeks. Garlic and onions are typically planted in October and harvested in July, while the potatoes are also planted in October and harvested in February.
We are fallowing 35 percent of our acreage for an ag-to-urban water transfer and that is the maximum fallowing that can annually occur. We are in the 11th year of a 35-year ag-to-urban water transfer program.
As an interesting aside, last year on Sept. 8, the north end of our Palo Verde Valley got about 4 inches of rain. It was a major isolated downpour. We get annually 3 inches of rain, so this was unprecedented. Then on Sept. 8 of this year, on the south end of the valley in Yuma, a huge storm dumped between 4 and 6 inches of rain. It brought severe wind and isolated rain to our area, but fortunately, it wasn’t like what they got on the south end of the valley.
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower
It has been a fairly warm summer. I’m not sure if that is related to El Niño, but evening lows are quite a bit warmer than normal and it has been humid. Things are growing fairly quickly.
People just don’t have the water, so they have cut back on planted acres. Even though we had an inch-plus of rain in July, that helped for about a week, but it’s back to the same old thing of no water. That rain didn’t do anything to replenish the groundwater.
One of our main crops is Chinese napa cabbage and that has suffered in the fourth year of drought. There’s a lot of salt buildup in the soil and it is a salt-sensitive crop. There are other crops that we’re seeing the effects of salt buildup in irregular stands or irregular growth to the field. We’re using soil amendments like gypsum and other materials, but it’s only putting a Band-Aid on the problem and not solving the problem completely.
People have fallowed acres due to lack of water and that has created a shortage similar to last year. The cilantro price in August reached a historic high, partly due to the warm nighttime temperatures creating bolting problems and also the ban on product coming out of Mexico.
Labor again is very tight this year. We are using one H-2A crew, which has helped, but labor is even tighter than it was last year. We’re struggling to harvest all of our crops on time and we have seen crop losses due to lack of labor to be able to harvest in a timely manner.
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