From the Fields®

Issue Date: August 19, 2015
By Russell Doty, Santa Barbara County avocado and lemon grower

On our operation, we finished picking our avocados a lot earlier than normal. We have one more lemon harvest coming up, probably in September or October. Our avocados were more mature countywide and a little further along this year because of the drought. We chose to just get everything off because we didn't expect any price increase worth keeping the fruit on the trees and risking any fruit drop.

From what I've heard from other farmers in the area, most people are done harvesting avocados by now, which is really early.

I know that we are struggling in the northern part of the county with water. Our district water source is going to dry up soon, so people need their own water sources. A lot of avocado growers are stumping their trees to relieve some of the pressure on our water source.

I know that labor is still an issue, particularly for the strawberry farmers. Pickers are constantly leaving one farm to go to another to make more money.

Our lemon crop is good. Every year we are getting better. We have done some things to help with some of our pests, one of them being snails. We actually paint the trunk with a paint and copper mixture that keeps the snails from getting up into the trees. Our quality has gone up a lot and it has made a big difference in our grade-outs.

Issue Date: August 19, 2015
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County orchardist

This is the earliest almond harvest on record. We started shaking on July 22 and normally it is the end of August or first week in September; that would be our normal start date for this area. I have already picked up and delivered all my Nonpareils.

With the warm spring that we had, the trees weren't under stress. The navel orangeworm pressure was higher than normal this year as there was a third flight. So it was good to get the almonds down on the ground before the third flight started hitting them. This enabled us to avoid a high reject level. We were able to maintain a good quality crop and get it in early.

Up here in the North State, everything that has been harvested so far has been coming in heavier than last year. We are quite pleased with yields and the high quality. It looks like our reject levels will probably be under 1 percent.

Our prune harvest is also underway. It is a very heavy crop. Glenn County basically didn't have a prune crop last year because of the lack of chilling hours and the warm spring. They just didn't have a bloom. It was so bad that part of my orchard wasn't even harvested last year. I actually collected crop insurance for the first time ever. This year, the sugar levels on the prunes are running very high, which helps on the dry away ratio and puts more money in the grower's pocket.

Like everyone else, I had to buy expensive water and we did put in a couple wells. I survived the year with the water I purchased and was able to get from the wells. We stretched out the irrigations a little more than we would have liked to do, but we did OK this year. The wells did drop, but most people up here were surprised that the wells held up as much as they did. So now we pray for a wet winter.

Issue Date: August 19, 2015
By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified farmer

We're in between seasons right now. Most people are doing tractor work to get ready for produce season. We're doing tillage and irrigating the soil, working up the ground.

But at the same time, the annual crops like alfalfa and Bermuda seed crops are still being harvested. It's about working up the ground and getting it in shape for produce.

We'll start planting vegetable crops in late September, but with all the new varieties, the season keeps widening out and we have a longer production season. We'll be going at it heavy in October, November, December and January.

Our season keeps starting earlier and earlier. When I was a kid, we'd start in late October, but with new varieties, available water and strong consumer demand, we can supply the market for a longer time.

We're working on water conservation programs here and keeping an eye on the Colorado River. Our fallowing program to transfer water to send to San Diego under the Quantification Settlement Agreement comes to an end in 2017.

We've been ramping up conservation through on-farm investments and innovations. The Imperial Irrigation District has been paying farmers for water conserved that way after measuring against our baseline allocation, and farmers continue to make investments in conservation.

Issue Date: August 19, 2015
By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower

We've been working hard to manage the effects of the drought on our nursery. For the past few months, we have instituted whatever changes possible in order to cut back our water use.

These included converting to more efficient drip irrigation systems, installing more irrigation controllers, employee training to improve management of our irrigation practices and consolidating plant blocks more frequently.

Additionally, we cut our production numbers to meet water cutback targets imposed by our water district, as well as to match the decrease in demand by consumers striving to cut their own water use.

Our challenges have been guessing which plants would continue to sell well and which would not, and deciding if we should cut back more.

It has turned out to be like choosing a line to get into at the ballpark. No matter which one you choose, you would be wrong.

Issue Date: August 19, 2015
By John Moore, Kern County diversified grower

We just finished harvesting potatoes. We are about on average for potatoes. One thing about this drought is that if you have water, you can grow a pretty good crop, but you have to manage it very well because of the different funguses and pests that we see because of the warm weather. This was a good year for the potato crop.

Right now, we are planting carrots. We finished harvesting our Nonpareil almonds last week and next week will be harvesting our Montereys. Everyone in Kern County seems to be in between their Monterey and Nonpareils.

We are gearing up for pistachio harvest in about three weeks.

We are trying to sustain our water supplies as much as we can. We are part of the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, so we are OK as far as water is concerned. We are prorated 1.3 acre-feet through the district, and we are relying a lot on our personal wells. But we have been managing pretty well throughout the year, so we do have some water supplies left.

We have in our almonds all drip irrigation, and we changed out the sprinkler nozzles on our impact sprinklers for potatoes and carrots to a low-pressure nozzle, which takes less power and actually gives us some water savings as well.

Nut crops look decent. I've heard that almonds are spotty in Kern County, but everything looks OK. We are battling a little bit of rust and the water stress has done a little damage to the almonds, but we are managing as best we can.

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Dave Roberti, Sierra County rancher

It’s been an interesting year. We went from looking like it was going to be a complete disaster this year—and then in May we had a couple of weeks of showers and cool weather. Grain crops and grasses grew like crazy. Then we got halfway through our first cutting, and a thunderstorm came and rained on a third of our first cutting of alfalfa and just wiped it out. It’s gone from one extreme to the other and then back.

The rains didn’t quit, so we couldn’t get the hay off of the field and the next crop was growing up through it, which made it a real challenge. We just got the last of it off and finished baling it, and now we are getting ready to start our second cutting. I’m looking at thunderstorms building again over the mountains.

Hay prices are down quite a bit from where we hoped they’d be. Cattle prices are still pretty good. We’re still healthy and happy and doing fine.

Our water is short. We got cut back to about 40 percent of our allotment and were pumping our wells pretty hard. But at least we’ve got something to work with, where a lot of guys don’t have anything.

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County poultry farmer

It's been quite an interesting year in respect to the weather. For the most part, it has been a very good year for growing turkeys in the West in regards to livibilities (survival expectancy) and weight gains up until the July heat spell as well as little severe winter weather. Short heat spells over time are OK, but abrupt changes cause heat losses, depending on the size of birds in the field. Forty-five pound toms like it a bit cooler than 100 degrees.

Now that the waterfowl have left, the threat of HPAI (high pathogenic avian influenza) this summer is low, but the fall migration around the corner will bring new fears of worse infections to come. Hopefully, it will not be as bad as the Midwest, which was hit hard this spring. Populations of layer hens and turkey losses have totaled over 50 million head in that region, resulting in higher egg prices as well as a loss of 9 percent of the nation's turkey numbers. At last report, it might take two years to recover. My worst fear would be an epidemic in all four flyways. Keeping all poultry, including backyard birds, free from any contact with wild birds is essential in controlling the spread of this deadly disease. If it is found, state and federal agencies quarantine a facility for six to nine months, which is economically devastating on top of the disease loss.

Other news is our new walnut planting is slowly appearing to come around. Lack of chilling temperatures has the walnuts acting a bit strange this season. This is just the difference from the plant and animal sides of agriculture.

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon farmer

Due in part to California's dry spring weather and above average temperatures, melon production started about eight to 10 days earlier this year. Volumes and yields have been consistently strong, but fruit sizing has been somewhat inconsistent.

In late June, we struggled with smaller- than-normal sizes, only to shift to larger-than-normal fruit during the first few weeks of July. Unfortunately, buyers don't always understand that we grow outdoors and are not manufacturing widgets. Buyers' ability to make strategic shifts in size is limited, so marketing can be a challenge during inconsistent periods.

That's what is unique and exciting about the melon business. Every season is different and despite planning, you still have to monitor and adjust to changes very quickly. Fortunately, normalcy appears on the horizon. Plant-to-harvest dates have stabilized and sizing looks to be consistent with prior years and varieties. With industry supplies and markets stable, I anticipate a good run for melons during the months of August and September.

The unknown is still the effect of freight costs, local melon-growing regions coming into production, and the development of a possible El Niño. As usual, California melon growers will adapt as necessary and continue to supply the consumer with the highest quality product, grown and harvested under the safest protocols and conditions in the industry.

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Stan Lester, Yolo County diversified grower

We just endured a very hot heat spell—hitting record-breaking temperatures on July 29. With this heat, in combination with the drought, it's a big challenge to irrigate and maintain the water needs of our tree crops.

Hot temperatures, as well as the low humidity, are forcing the trees and plants into evapotranspiration rates between 0.25 to 0.3 inches of water per day. Depending on the design of each irrigation system and water availability, it's a real problem keeping up and maintaining adequate moisture for our trees.

Nevertheless, we finished harvesting our apricot crop a month ago and are a week from wrapping up our fresh peach harvest. The flavor and sweetness of the peaches this year has been outstanding.

We've received many compliments on the quality of both our apricots and peaches that we sell fresh or in pies at our bakery.

Looking ahead, our walnut crop looks to be slightly more than last year, with every variety having a bigger crop. We've had to spray for Botryosphaeria three times this year per the recommendation of the University of California Cooperative Extension advisors.

These treatments certainly have added expense and a lot more to our work schedule, adding it to the need to fertilize, irrigate and possibly treat for mites, codling moth and husk fly.

For some reason, the husk flies have emerged later this year than in past years. Perhaps the weather is affecting their life cycle. Otherwise, the walnut trees and crop look healthy and clean at this point in time.

We have heard rumors that this might be another record walnut crop this year for California. We shall see.

We're also hearing the 2014 crop carryover is being used at a good pace, which should help the pricing situation for the 2015 crop. As we head toward harvest, we hope to finish strong and produce a quality crop for our consumers.

Issue Date: August 5, 2015
By Scott Rollen, Solano County diversified grower

Everything right now looks good. We are in the midst of harvesting bell peppers; we started that in mid-July and it is going really well. Contending with the heat has been a big next hurdle. The plants haven't had water for a week now, so we are just trying to get through the fields. Tomato harvest will start this week and we have a heavy crop. Our bell peppers and tomatoes are machine harvested.

We have finished irrigating the sunflowers and we've chopped the males out. So now, we are just waiting for the dry-down to commence harvest. And this crop looks good as well. It was nice to get them in early enough with an April 1 planting, so we don't have to irrigate any more. That freed up some water for us to use in other areas where our crops still need water.

We finished hull-split spray on the almonds and now we are just waiting to begin shaking. We are about three weeks away, which is a week earlier than last year and about two weeks earlier than normal. That hot spell that came through in May kind of pushed everything along. The almonds look really good, both the nonpareils and the pollinators.

We are a large alfalfa producer, and what is really hurting us right now is that the market has dropped out of the alfalfa market. It is getting really tough for the summer hay, which is dry cow hay.

What we are hoping for now is a very wet winter.

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