From the Fields®

Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County pumpkin grower

We are swamped here at our pumpkin patch, but we are doing well. We are glad to have the cool weather come in. We had to harvest some of our pumpkins early this year.

We shipped some overseas to Singapore and we shipped some to Southern California in September. This is the first time we shipped overseas, and we sell a lot of pumpkins here at our pumpkin patch.

We opened the pumpkin patch and corn maze last week and that is going very well. We plant about 50 different varieties of pumpkins. People are coming out, and it gives us a chance to interact with urban people and tell them about pumpkins and how they can be used for much more than just decorations.

We are really glad to be out of the extremely hot weather, and fortunately we had plenty of water. It was the toughest year to grow pumpkins that I ever experienced. So, we are glad to see the cool weather come in here.

This year, the corn maze design is kind of a dinosaur theme. We have a couple different dinosaurs and a palm tree. It looks really good. My kids design it and cut it out, so it is a lot of fun. Then on Nov. 1, we will harvest the corn for silage.

We went from a really wet winter and spring to an extremely hot summer, so farming had its challenges. But it is all good now.

Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County Brussels sprout grower

We're still waiting for the Brussels sprouts to grow. We're three to three and a half weeks behind normal, because of all the rain we had in the spring. So we're just winding up the hand-picking up north in the Santa Cruz area. The volume is decreasing; it's been a low volume since we started.

The market is still astronomical. It's $50 a box, which is a record high that it's been at for the last two months. There just hasn't been enough volume for the amount of demand.

We anticipate starting middle of October with our machines; that'll increase the volume to at least come closer to meeting the demand, but as we move closer to the season, the demand is also going to increase. They were actually flying in product from Holland to the west coast of Canada because they could get a better price for it there flying it on an airplane than they could selling it in Holland.

Acreage is up again. There's pretty good harvest going on in Oxnard right now, but it'll move its way up. So every area was a little bit behind where they were before.

Mexico has already started. There's some actual year-round growers now coming out of Mexico, which is another new thing. Typically, Mexico would start in December-January and go until May-June, but Mexican sprouts were available pretty much all year this year. So the overall amount of sprouts has increased dramatically over the last few years. It appears that they're planting more this year.

They've been having some issues with the diamondback moth. There was some acreage lost down in Oxnard earlier in the season. There was some acreage in the Castroville area that recently had some issues with the same thing. And it's a constant issue with Mexican Brussels sprouts because of the warmer weather down there—it's very hard to keep them under control. They're one of the biggest pests for Brussels sprouts.

The crop that we have here on the Central Coast is looking very good. The quality, to date, of what we've been picking by hand has been excellent. Yields have been good and quality has been great, so it's been a cakewalk to get rid of them.

Labor is going to be an issue. The strawberry guys have been struggling all season long, and we're fortunate in that our season starts so late we get a lot of the strawberry guys that, once they start winding down, they're looking for something else to do for the next three or four months. I don't have any extra guys, but it looks like we'll be able to field a crew. But the level of available labor is much lower than it's ever been.

Water hasn't been an issue—thank you, God—this year because of all those early rains that actually washed a lot of the salts out of the soils, made a lot of the crops grow better and filled up a lot of reservoirs. There's been no shortage of water this year.

Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Harvest was closer to normal than what it had been the last couple years, when it was extremely early. This year it is closer to what is typically considered normal.

We do mostly all machine harvest. We did kind of struggle at the beginning to find enough people for the harvesters, but when it was all said and done, we were able to get it taken care of.

Overall, the crop was average. Some varieties were a little bit lighter and some were about average. The quality of the grapes seems to be very good.

We have planted a few acres of almonds. Not as much this year; more last year. Looking down the road, looking at the availability and cost of labor, we put in the almonds. But our main focus is still on winegrapes. We did plant a little bit this year: more of the typical varieties, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon.

Everyone I've talked to tells me it has been a challenging year. For us, the floodwaters in the spring covered some of our vineyards. And because of all the water, we got a late start getting onto the fields. There is a common word this year that a lot of people are using: The "flow" hasn't been there this year.

We are getting things done, but it just seems like we weren't ahead of the game the way we like. The flow was just not there, for whatever reason. Talking to other guys—the truck drivers, other farmers—it has just been a different flow this year. When it is all said and done, we are getting the work done, it's just been a different kind of challenge.

Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer

It is full-swing harvest in this area with almonds coming off and other crops. As far as what we do, we are just about calved out. We started calving around the first part of August. That was just after the fire that destroyed about 660 acres of our feed sources, or about 55 percent. We didn’t lose any houses or livestock and all the people were saved, so we are thankful for that.

We are probably 90 percent calved out right now and we are getting bull semen tested. We will turn out bulls on Nov. 1. It is a little different year for guys like me because we did go through the fire. We are probably feeding a little more hay because of that. The calves look good.

We will be changing pastures soon. It is pretty much the normal routine except for the fire and having to work around the edges of that thing.

We are actually going into the cow herd to look at the heifers. We are staying steady and slightly growing on our cow numbers. We keep a handful to put back into the herd each year. We are not a big operation, 125 mother cows, so we don’t grow too rapidly. Our cows are Angus-based and we use Angus bulls and Simangus bulls (a combination of Angus and Simmental breeds). We turn out about six bulls for our cows.

Right now, it is about managing feed and keeping these cows moved around to keep them fed.

We will be branding in early December and then we will be getting ready for springtime.

Issue Date: September 27, 2017
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

We are in full swing of harvest here in the North State. We just finished up our prune harvest. It was one of the longest prune harvests in memory.

Between having the hot weather and the crews having to knock off early, and even on the warmer days just slowing down, it made for a longer harvest. But the trees are shook now and the fruit is at the dryer.

This year, the prune trees took a real beating. Between the heavy crop that we had on the trees and the hot weather, everybody is reporting that there has been a lot of breakage, so we have a lot of brush to clean up. Talking to other growers in the area, they are all fighting the same problem.

We are about two-thirds done in almond harvest. It looks like yields will be up this year. I don't have the final weights yet, but just looking at the loads coming out of the orchards, they just appear to be higher.

We are seeing higher-than-normal navel orangeworm damage this year. Our pest control advisor said it is the worst he has seen in the 20 years that he has been in the business—and he is finding it all over: Yolo County, Butte, Colusa, Glenn, everybody is running higher. We are all dealing with it, and we probably won't be earning many premiums this year for low-reject levels. So it is going to cost us money this year. Even though we got the sprays on in a timely manner, for some reason they are really bad this year.

Issue Date: September 27, 2017
By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower

With the long, wet winter and spring, we got a late start on about everything. The last of the tomato transplants went in two weeks late and the winegrapes and walnuts leafed out behind too.

But July and August were warmer than normal, with the late August heat reaching 115 in some spots, a full 12 degrees higher for the couple of hot spells we expect each year.

We had enough moisture in our ground and vigor in our plants, so no serious burning occurred. No raisins! And everything has caught up with normal harvest dates and with the winegrapes expected to now be a couple of weeks early.

It is too soon to know about yield and quality for the late-maturing Chandler walnuts. That harvest date is usually set by the timing of a late September or early October rain that allows the green hulls to split and the nuts to start falling.

Last year that first rain was too big, the ground got too soft and the harvest equipment sinks if you do not let the ground firm up first. The orchards with mowed sod provide a little more flexibility to go in wet.

Other than having trouble getting in a grape thinning crew in late May, the labor supply has been OK. The shortages in the area tend to be for the jobs that are less preferable and for smaller growers that have less long-season clout with the contractors.

We are set up to harvest the grapes with machines, but the winery prefers a hand-harvested product. We'll see how that goes in a few weeks.

Issue Date: September 27, 2017
By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

California’s prune harvest started about a week later than normal and was completed by mid-September. It’s still a bit early to estimate the crop size. Pre-harvest estimates pegged it at 105,000 tons. However, fruit size was an issue this year with a good bit of off grade along with a late fruit drop.

In addition, indications are that dry-away ratios are poor, so that number may be reduced somewhat. In the field, we’re doing some clean up of broken limbs, dead tree removals and post-harvest irrigation.

As for walnuts, the husk fly pressure is much less this year on my farm. And it started much later. We’re getting prepared for the final push before harvest by spraying down weeds and chopping up early nuts that fell prematurely due to sunburn, etc.

We always worry about the impact that sunburn may have on the season’s nut quality, particularly with the Hartley variety because so many of the nuts are held on the outside of the canopy. It’s too early to say what nut quality will be, so we will just have to see.

There is optimism among farmers about walnut pricing because the state objective forecast has come in well under the early projections. And last season’s crop has moved quite well. All this bodes well for healthy sales of the 2017 crop.

Issue Date: September 27, 2017
By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

We are just finishing up harvest of our peppers—both processing and fresh market.

Pepper quality started out really good, but with the hot weather of a couple weeks ago and insect pressure that came on like gangbusters, there has been some quality issues. Hopefully, with the cooler weather, that will help.

The weather this week has been OK, but a couple weeks ago it was unbearably hot and humid. It caused a flare-up in all kinds of insects, with insects getting into crops that they normally don't get into. So, everyone has been dealing with that.

The summer strawberries are just starting to be harvested and the winter strawberries are just starting to get planted. We are planting cilantro and celery right now.

Labor is the big issue in Ventura County. It is short in all sectors, not only agriculture, but in other sectors of the economy down here. I'm not sure where it is going to end up, but it may not end up in a good spot.

Everything we grow is basically hand- harvested and we are doing all we can to keep our crews intact. Obviously, wages are heading upward, not only because of increase in the minimum wage, but also the competitive pressures.

Even though wages are heading up, we still don't see a labor supply. So, a lot more folks are looking to the federal H-2A program for a bridge to gap that shortage, so we will just have to see where that goes.

The other issue is water. We have water policy issues going on down here and we are trying to get that resolved. There are a lot of moving parts of the puzzle that we are trying to get together.

Usually in October, the days start getting shorter and the insect pressure starts to back off. But we will just have to wait and see. Every year is a new year and every year brings its own challenges.

Issue Date: September 27, 2017
By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

In the Northern Plains—eastern Montana, North and South Dakota, and parts of Minnesota—drought conditions in 2017 intensified through mid-August and as a result honey crops are short. The price of clover honey is higher, but like all agriculture, if you don't have a crop to sell, it doesn't much matter what the price is.

Beekeepers are now focused on preparing their hives for the rigors of the 2018 pollination season. The supply of quality hives is limited.

Beekeepers in North Dakota and California get closer together every single day. What I mean by that is that the inputs the beekeepers are placing in their hives right now—protein supplements, feed syrup, maintenance and new equipment, queen replacements—all those activities are aimed at meeting the demand for pollination services.

Forage initiatives are gaining momentum across the country, which will benefit bees and indirectly benefit growers who rent bees to pollinate their crops. But much needs to be done.

Issue Date: September 13, 2017
By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

We are finishing up with our avocado crop. It is uniformly light and rather small in size, but we got pretty darn good prices.

The lemon crop has actually been pretty good, although we had some mite damage that was a little distressing. I have one lighter pick, and that will probably occur at the end of September.

We had an 18,000-acre fire very nearby. The closest approach to my place was about a mile. The fire folks actually did a pretty good job keeping it out of agriculture. There was a lot of hard work there and as a result, there was not much agricultural damage on the south side. There was some damage inland in the Santa Ynez Valley, primarily grazing land.

Other than that, we are just trying to get caught up. We had some pretty good rains here, so there has been an extended weed-control season. After dealing with the rains and the delays caused by the rains, we are just starting to get caught up now.

Labor remains tight. Several years ago, I could call a contractor and have a crew within one or two days. Now, especially with the avocados, we need to schedule at least two to three weeks in advance. There really isn't any extra labor around anyplace. What we are doing, as the avocado harvest window seems to shorten, we find other tasks to try to keep them busy during the offseason.

<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10  ... >>