From the Fields®

Issue Date: November 26, 2014
By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

Right now on the farm we just finished our last irrigation cycle. Thankfully it was shorter because we have had some rain. Generally it is October when we start getting our first winter rains and we are excited about that. Harvest is definitely early, probably earlier than I have done in 20 years. Generally we don’t pick everything until December and January, but already the olives are considerably ripe right now, so we are getting everything geared up. We will pretty much be done by December.

The most exciting thing on the farm is our Meyer lemon crop. Our lemons got hit pretty hard by the frost and we were concerned that we wouldn’t get a crop, but as it turns out we will have one of the biggest Meyer lemon crops that we have ever seen. We utilize these lemons in our olive oil, so we are excited about that.

The olive crop statewide is down. I’ve heard reports that it is about 65 percent of normal. I don’t know the factors of that. We didn’t really have any odd weather to impact our crop, which seemed to be about the same size as last year’s crop, so we were fortunate in that regard. One thing that may have affected it was the extremely dry January and February. We actually did a half-cycle irrigation in January and we’ve never done that before.

People are discovering olive oil as a personal commodity now. They are really identifying with a local farmer such as ourselves in our area. In California, we like to say that there is no reason that people shouldn’t know personally who is farming their olives and making their olive oil.

Issue Date: November 26, 2014
By John Vevoda, Humboldt County dairy farmer

There's plenty of rain already this season, so that's good. In our operation, we've completed all the fall farming. We harvested all of our fall feed. We got all of our corn and silage in that we had. The quality was good, but the yields throughout the year weren't quite what we were hoping for because it was so dry. But then we had early rains too, so we were really praying the rain would stop so we could get everything in and get fields planted before it started raining again.

We're pretty well set for the winter as it stands right now. The grass is growing in fields, but we still have to supplement a little bit because it was pretty dry, hot and windy this summer.

We pumped more water than I ever remember in over 40 years. The wells did hold up, so we were fortunate there. Some of my neighbors were not quite so fortunate. I don't think there are too many guys hauling water right now. Most people who were hauling water for their livestock, that's come to an end.

Because we're organic, we depend on the grasses growing. Our milk production was down a little bit this year, just because of it being so dry. Feed costs were through the roof because of the drought. The quality of the feed that we purchased was off and extremely expensive. We had to depend on just the grass this year rather than supplementing any feed.

But the problem is, on the organic side, the price that the producer receives didn't go up. The organic milk supply got short this summer. So now with it being short—unlike on the conventional side where it's getting long—we're getting quite a few buyers coming in and offering us all kinds of prices for our milk.

Because we're under contract, we're not able to go right away, but most of us can give notice if we want to leave and go someplace else. What if the supply gets long? So you have to think about all that in your decisions. It's kind of a difficult situation. It almost reminds me of pre-pooling in 1969.

It doesn't look like we're going anywhere soon, just because of all that we've gone through when Humboldt Creamery went bankrupt in 2009. All I look for is stability, even though some of the prices they're offering look good. But there are quite a few dairymen jumping ship. So this next year should be very interesting when it comes to organic milk.

Issue Date: November 26, 2014
By Jon Fadhl, Solano County olive oil producer

We finished harvest. Harvest was two weeks later than it probably should have been, but we ended up getting pretty high oil yields. The tonnage on the crop was average.

Olives are alternate bearing, but we planted our trees over four years, so half of our orchard is "on" and half of it is "off." And we did that on purpose so we don't have a high year and then the next year not have any oil. For our total production, we maintain a certain level, so our production is basically the same tonnage pretty much every year and pretty stable. Where our benefits come in is our oil yields.

I think the quality is there. It's still being tested; we haven't gotten our actual results back yet, but from our internal sampling, it seems to be on target. We don't have any pest issues. I know there's a fruit fly issue going on in the Napa and Suisun Valley areas, but we're not seeing it in our growing region. So that's positive for our quality.

I don't think the drought necessarily affected us this year in terms of water availability, at least on my production and my olive crop. The California water issue has not been a big detriment to me yet. I think that has to do with the evapotranspiration of the crop, how much water the crop uses, because olives tend to be drought tolerant. We cut back a little bit on our water in order to conserve and we ended up with some really nice yields, and I don't know if that was from the water deficit or from waiting two weeks longer to harvest.

Our water source is from the reclamation district. Our water rights have not been affected yet. We were asked to conserve, and that's what we've done, but it is not mandatory yet. We cut back just to prepare and try to be a good steward of the resource. We ended up with a higher oil yield. They say that running a water deficit is good for the olives, and the drought has pushed us into that arena.

Issue Date: November 26, 2014
By Pete Belluomini, Kern County potato, carrot and citrus farmer

Down here in my business, it's busy from all directions. One of the unique things about Kern County down this end of the valley with regard to fresh vegetables—the potatoes, the carrots—there's something going on all the time. There are multiple crops and multiple plantings, so there are multiple harvests.

We are harvesting potatoes in the mountains in eastern Kern County. That's my Thanksgiving project. It helps take care of the market during Thanksgiving. I have our fall potatoes in the home ranch in the valley. We're getting ready to prepare those for harvest. Those will be harvested as we get into December.

At the same time, planting has begun. We plant potatoes down in the Imperial Valley for the packing shed. When that's finished, we'll start planting in Bakersfield in December. So we're prepping and getting ready for all that.

We also grow carrots. Right now, we have carrots in the ground. We started harvesting some of the early plantings. We will start planting for the spring harvest. I have some organics to be planted the end of this month.

The quality of the potatoes has been good. The crops are picking up. The market is steady. So I'm optimistic today. It's off to a good start. I would say the same about the carrots. We didn't hear any complaints from the shed on any quality issues. The crop looks sufficient.

We also have citrus. We are situated in some of the earliest navel orange harvest areas, so we've been at it now for about three weeks or better. I think the crop is off just a hair, but the sizes are good and the market is steady. I think the overall numbers are down, but usually when the numbers are less on the trees, the sizes are better.

Issue Date: November 26, 2014
By Art Perry, San Joaquin County diversified grower

What we're really known for is seedless watermelons, pumpkins and the different squashes. At this moment, all those crops have been harvested. We're packing winter squash now.

We also are handlers. We handle product 365 days a year. We're bringing seedless watermelon in out of Mexico. So we have seedless watermelon and squash year-round.

We're working all our land to prepare it for the future crops. The first crop we're getting ready to plant is wheat. We'll be planting wheat here starting soon. The goal is to be done by the middle of December with all the wheat planted, or even earlier if possible.

We also grow beans, alfalfa hay, corn, safflower, tomatoes and all the ornamental squashes and gourds, along with pumpkins and seedless watermelon. This year we introduced the mini-seedless, or the personal seedless watermelon. We started last year on a pretty good-sized trial, but this year we put in a sizable amount. From now going forward, we'll be very active in raising personal seedless along with the large seedless watermelon.

This winter, we'll also be planting alfalfa hay. We like to have that planted by the end of December. But if we don't, we can plant it in January or February. Throughout the winter, we keep working on the land if the weather permits.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County apple and timber producer

Apple harvest is underway and we're making good progress. Right now, we're harvesting Granny Smith and Arkansas black apples, which are dark-skinned apples, almost maroon. People love their crunchiness with a slightly tart flavor.

We had a 36-degree morning recently, but generally our mornings have been about 40 degrees, warm enough to not cause any problems with harvest. We hope to be finished with apple harvest in a couple of weeks.

One challenge we've encountered is this crop is somewhat larger than expected, which is usually a good problem to have, except we've been running out of bins and have had to slow down while we empty some out or get more.

Because the foothill apple crop is harvested so late in the season, we haven't had problems getting help. But we do have to pay a bit more because of workers' added travel costs.

We barely squeaked by with our water supplies, but we made it this year. Getting the crop through this year meant paying a lot more attention to water management, which is very time-consuming and labor-intensive.

Right now, I'm trying to beat the weather to wrap up some brush clearing jobs. We've been working in the Rim Fire burn area, grinding dead vegetation and leaving it in place for mulch.

There's been some discussion about whether mulch adds to the future fuel load or helps restore the soil. I think leaving mulched material in some places will help hold the soil if we get a lot of precipitation, which we hope will prevent damaging erosion.

In Stanislaus County, it's water, water, water. Groundwater is a hot topic right now and there have been a number of important meetings on this issue. I'm trying to stay on top of these policy issues on both counts to help represent our members' interests.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

The good news is that we had two inches of rain in our area, so the pasture is growing for cattle ranchers. Walnut harvest is in full swing and the walnuts are quite large this year. Our barbera winegrape crop was down 75 percent due to last year's fall frost before the vines were dormant, in addition to the two inches of spring hail. But that is farming.

Water continues to be a big concern in our area as it is throughout the state. Our water tables have really dropped, from about 350 to almost 700 feet. All we have is solid granite fractures; we do not have an aquifer. Everything we grow is on drip irrigation and everything is efficient. We are saving every drop of water that we possibly can.

Overall in our region, the grape crop was down 15 to 30 percent. The No. 1 cause is the drought. Ironically, the drought is going to set the stage for the best quality vintage since 1997. A light crop provides small grapes, and small grapes give dark color and lots of flavor—everything that our consumers crave.

In addition, the 2014 vintage marks the earliest winegrape harvest ever on record, due to the dry conditions and warm climate.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Sarb Atwal, Yuba-Sutter counties orchardist

Cling peach harvest began a week early in mid-July. Most growers experienced lighter yields in the extra-early and early varieties, while the late and extra-late varieties provided excellent yields. Overall, the fruit quality and size were ideal, given the lighter set and the above-normal temperatures we experienced during the growing season.

Labor was plentiful thanks in part to canneries allowing growers to mechanically harvest their crops. The peach industry is showing positive signs. Canners are offering long-term contracts for growers and some are even offering financing options to help develop new orchards. However, many growers are still reluctant to plant additional acreage, as the increase of minimum wage and other growing costs offset the increase in price and return.

The prune crop in Yuba-Sutter was decent. The prune set in the North State was below average, along with the crop in the south. Prune acreage is declining substantially even with the higher prices. Most of this is due to growers redeveloping those blocks into nut crops, which are quicker to produce and have proven to sustain a stronger market.

The walnut crop appears to be lighter than expected. The quality is excellent and so far we have had minimal issues. Most growers are finishing harvest of Chandler varieties.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Mark McBroom, Imperial County citrus farmer

We grow mostly lemons, mandarins and grapefruit. Our lemon crop is better than last year and markets are holding up really well. We're having a little trouble with labor right now, but we're still able to move across our crop at a near-normal pace.

The Asian citrus psyllid is causing problems because we have an infested area. Our county has its own pest control district, which has been very aggressive in attacking the challenge posed by this pest and the disease it spreads. We're satisfied with the response.

Our grower community is very educated about this problem and we feel our county is doing a good job. I serve on the state Citrus Research Board and the Citrus Disease and Pest Prevention Committee, and we're getting the latest information on developments with this problem and have a good sense of what's going on.

We're off to a good start with our lemon harvest, not quite halfway through. We'll start with seeded tangerines shortly and then transition to our seedless varieties about mid-December. Grapefruit, it's a fruit that's kind of been neglected, and the grapefruit market is always a challenge.

California grapefruit growers generally have a third place at the table behind Florida and Texas because of marketing reasons and perhaps some consumer acceptability issues. Our crop doesn't usually come off until about May and June. However, if an opportunity comes up, we have fruit that is pickable right now.

We had an average crop year last year, but we're hoping for better this year. Farmers are always optimistic.

Issue Date: November 5, 2014
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

The relatively small amount of rice acreage we were able to plant in 2014 yielded reasonably well, both in quantity and quality. With the open fall weather we, like an increasing number of rice growers, opted to contract with one of the numerous outfits in the area putting up rice straw for various purposes, from dry stock feed to dairy cattle fodder to environmental purposes such as straw wattles, etc. When the rice industry moved into the era of sharply reduced burning with the passage of AB 1378 in the early '90s, many hoped that large-scale alternative uses for the straw would be quick in coming.

Ironically, the drought with which we are now wrestling has increased the demand for rice straw as a livestock feed supplement. Removing a large portion of the straw makes for much more efficient postharvest tillage, not to mention the fact that dependable water supplies for rice straw decomposition are limited and, in some cases, simply not available.

Here it is Halloween, and we've already been tantalized by a couple of storms right out of the Gulf of Alaska that looked really promising for the North State, but didn't materialize for much more than a shower or two. Driving through our big ranch out in the Colusa Basin east of Delevan, a large portion of which had to be fallowed in crop year 2014, it is a another stark reminder of how fragile our irrigated agricultural industry is in traditionally arid California.

Given the current condition of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, it appears that nothing short of an extremely wet winter and early spring can bring the system back even to early spring 2014 levels. It certainly can happen, as did happen in January of 1978, right on the heels of the drought of 1976-77. With the realization of any new water storage probably at least a decade away, it is difficult and painful to imagine what our farming operations may look like, absent a return to plentiful rain and snow.

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