From the Fields®
By Tom Coleman, Madera County pistachio grower
Pistachio harvest is well underway. I got started the last week of August. The growers may have dodged a bullet in the Madera area in particular where we had a really poor bloom and a lot of concern about the percentage of nuts that are filling. In Madera, we are actually having lower percentage of blanks in the lower percentage of closed shells than we might normally see. Unfortunately, on the west side and in the south valley, the blanks are running very high.
Overall, the crop is estimated to be 500 million pounds, and right now we believe it is going to be less than that. It could be as low as 450 million pounds. This should have been an "on" year for the industry and it is going to be an "off" year. Strangely, what happened with the bloom is we had too much warm weather during our dormant period, mostly in January. We had very cold nights but very warm summer days. The trees did not get proper dormancy rest and chilling hours. Normally, here in the valley we get a little bit of rain, and in January and February we get a little bit of fog and that’s ideal for pistachios. The trees just did not get the proper rest. We had a varied amount of bloom. Part of the tree was blooming and part of the tree wasn’t.
With the water shortage there were a lot of growers that experienced insufficient irrigation, so that has limited the ability to fill the nuts and get the trees into full production. I have a number of ranches that got harvested in order of when the water was going to run out, not in order of ripeness, which would be the normal case. I personally have been paying as much as $1,000 an acre-foot for water, which is the most that I’ve ever paid for irrigation. I will be harvesting in about another week for first shake. In another week after that, I’ll be doing some new shake on some of the blocks that we already started on.
We’re thinking with the lower production, the price back to the grower will probably be the highest we’ve ever seen. Those of us who have been in the industry a long time are obviously happy for the moment, but for the long term think we are just setting the price too high.
I also do pistachio tree sales, which are also booming. I am seeing tree sales like I’ve never seen before. Generally, we are busy in the spring and in the summer, but we are shipping trees next week and the week after.
By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified farmer
Right now we're in the middle of harvesting all the corn silage, getting that last irrigation on and harvesting. All the almond guys are right in the middle of that, as well. It seems like everything is ahead of schedule by a couple of weeks this year.
As far as the pumpkin patch goes, we are getting all the grounds ready. Our pumpkins are growing really well. We're finishing up and just trying to hold the vines these last two, three weeks with all this hot weather happening. We're pouring the water on them as best we can with what water we have, trying to maintain them. But they're doing really well. There are a lot of pretty colors out there. It should be shaping up to be a good year.
It's really been a fairly good summer as far as corn goes and even for almonds. It's been warm, but it hasn't been 105, 110 degrees, so it's really been fairly bearable conditions.
For the most part, the Turlock Irrigation District and Stanislaus County have OK water—not great water, but we have enough to get by this year, so we're doing well. The farms are doing all they can to stretch the water as best we can. We'll get through it this year. We're hopeful for a good rain. There was some fallowing going on here, but not a lot. We're fortunate here to have some of the best water in the state, so we're OK this year. But there are hardly any reserves for next year.
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower
This summer has been challenging for vegetable production on the Central Coast. We are in the third year of a drought cycle and this has caused a build-up of salt in the soil and created problems, such as tip burn, in saltsensitive crops. The drought has also caused a severe drop in some well levels. Some of the shallower domestic wells have gone dry and many of the irrigation wells in our valley have reduced flows, some reduced to only 20 percent.
This has forced many farmers to fallow ground. The fallowing of ground has been a blessing in some respects. Over the past few years, labor supplies have been getting tighter and tighter. With the fallowing of farm ground, what could have been a far worse situation seems to have stabilized for the short term.
Warmer than normal night temperatures along with high humidity has also caused problems with crops, such as brown-bead in broccoli, heat check in field cut flowers and mildew in lettuces. This, along with the fallowing, has created shortages in supplies and higher market prices. With water shortage in the Central Valley, the late fall growing region for vegetables, the market shortages may be prolonged and may provide opportunities for growers in those areas with adequate water.
By Keith Larrabee, Glenn County nut and rice grower
Rice harvest will probably start this week. The crop looks good. I’m anxious to get started. Nothing was out of the ordinary with the rice production.
On walnuts, our main varieties are Howard and Chandler. We will probably get going this week on our Howards. The crop looks decent. We’ll know more once we’re in the field. Pest issues in the walnuts were actually rather light this year. We have been spraying for a little codling moth right before harvest within the timeframe that we need to, to make sure that it remains clean without any issues.
Pecans probably won’t get going until the 10th to the 15th of October. So we have a busy fall ahead of us. The crop looks good. I think we have good size. The crop set looks very good. It’s difficult to estimate what we have, but I’m encouraged that it’s a good, strong crop. We had a really intense aphid year and it continues. Aphids are our main pest in pecans. So that has been a battle all year. We’ve sprayed more than we normally have had to, to control them, but we’re keeping up the best we can with that.
We have not had any water issues. Our district was probably one of the few that actually had a full allotment of water, and our district was highly encouraged to participate in water transfers for fields with annual crops like rice. Our district as a whole did participate in that and fallowed about 20 percent of the ground in the district and sold water to those who were in a more-dire situation than us. I participated at a very little level. We only fallowed one field.
I guess we’re all praying for rain. It would be nice to see the state as a whole be more proactive on the water issue rather than being reactionary and develop new water. By that I mean develop more dams, develop more desalination and continue to fix the plumbing issues in the entire state water system. I think all three of those are areas that need to happen. We can’t continue to increase demand in the state with people, industry and cities, and expect agriculture to be the only one sacrificing itself for everybody else.
Thank God the previous generation had the foresight to develop an abundant supply of water for themselves so that in times of drought and dry periods, they still had adequate water to meet the state’s needs. Unfortunately, the last generation failed to continue that trend and now we’re experiencing that plight. I sure hope the state will continue to develop a lot more new water, and that doesn’t mean taking it from those who have it today.
By Pat Borrelli, Merced County diversified grower
We just finished cutting our hay. The price has actually dropped off quite a bit due to some of the dairies cutting way back. Exporters are not exporting as much hay. The price of milk-cow hay is still on the higher side, but dry-stock hay has dropped.
We just finished our fifth cutting and we're hoping to get one more. We planted about the same acreage. The tonnage has done pretty well. It's a little above average for us. The growing year has been good and we fertilized a little bit more. I think the increased tonnage has to do with the type of year we had, the weather and the management on the crop.
The cotton seems to be doing well. We grow acala. We're done irrigating it. We've seen some cracked bolls on it already, so it's coming along. We used less water on it this year just trying to cut back on water. It seems to be OK.
Our dry beans seem to be normal; they look OK. They're green baby beans, but dried. We're putting the last water on those. We're just starting to cut them. Harvest will probably be in two weeks.
We have some processing tomatoes and we just started harvesting. The first field's yield was lighter. I think that had to do with the weather. I haven't quite figured that one out yet. The next field was a little better. We didn't have the leafhopper insect virus as bad this year.
By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain farmer
This has been one wild roller coaster of a season for me. In early February, my entire crop was planted to dry soil and with no irrigation potential, some serious talks with the Almighty were in order. I don’t think any of us had ever seen such a dry winter.
What little rain we got from that time forward was the right amount, at the right time, with none to spare. We ended up with an above-average crop yield, and hay prices have been at all-time highs. Sales have been good and it looks like there’s a home for all of it.
I also grow several hundred acres of wheat and barley. The U.S. corn crop is coming in with better yields than expected, so all grain prices are lagging. I’m selling grain for less per ton than much of my hay. Since grain is just part of the plant that is harvested for hay, this pricing is just backwards. There’s no choice but to deal with the reality and hope things right themselves.
On the farm, we’re finishing up the last few acres of harvesting, and cleaning up the residual straw left by the combines. Straw was once a minor by-product of a grain crop, but the last decade, there’s been some good money in that by-product.
By Chris Lange, Tulare County citrus and raisin grower
We were hurt during the December 2013 freeze, but fortunately for us, we were hurt not as severely as many other growers. We lost crop and I suspect lost revenue, but overall, the 2013-14 crop has just been a banner year because we had the majority survive the freeze and prices have been so outstanding. So that has been a plus. That pertains to navel oranges, valencia oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes and mandarins. It’s almost all the citrus crops, and I would say across the board the returns have been pretty amazing—the highest we’ve seen in many years.
But the freeze was not a good event. We probably lost at least 3,000 young trees. So that was a major blow. But most of that acreage where we lost the trees has been replanted this year. They were trees that were less than a year old. We had no permanent damage in our older, producing trees.
As a result of the drought, we have close to 100 acres that we are not watering because either the production from those groves were low and/or they were old trees and probably ready to be replaced anyway. Water is tremendously scarce and expensive, and so we just have to make the choice of where we’re going to use the water we have, and it’s not going to go on a tired, old orange grove. The reality of this drought really is a wake-up call, that if something isn’t producing to the level that the water is costing, you’d better rethink about what you’re growing on that ground.
We’re planting new varieties of citrus crops. These are orchards that were already planned to be redeveloped. This year we planted Meyer lemons, some more Lisbon lemons, blood oranges, Fukumoto navels, Atwood navels, Star Ruby grapefruit and Minneola tangelos.
We also grow Thompson seedless grapes for raisins. We’re getting very close to harvesting. We do dried-on-the-vine raisins. The canes have already been cut, so probably in October we will do the harvest. And we think our crop is up 20 percent.
By Chris Bierwagen, Nevada County fruit grower
We are in the last stages of harvest for freestone peaches. We’re picking our O’Henry peaches, and then that will be the end of the season for peaches. The peach crop was good this year.
We’ve been picking three kinds of summer apples. Then we will be transitioning into fall apples and doing apple cider. The warm weather affected the apple crop really severely and cut it back because of the lack of chilling requirements. But it was more variety-specific. Some varieties have apples and some don’t have any. And it’s the second year they didn’t have any, so that’s problematic for apple production.
But the lack of chilling requirements didn’t mess with the peach crop. That’s a blessing this year and we had a full crop of peaches.
We finished picking berries for the season. We have raspberries and boysenberries. They had a phenomenal crop this year. They don’t seem to be affected at all by chilling requirements.
We’re gearing up for our fall pumpkin patch and fall festival. We do school tours during the month of October, and we’re in the planning stages for that. We take care of a lot of acres for gourds, pumpkins and squash and all the decorative stuff. Beginning the first weekend of October, we make apple cider. Our pumpkin patch will be open and schools bring their kids here during the week so they can pick their own pumpkins and drink apple cider.
By Jim Yeager, Yolo County sheep rancher
I think a major concern for sheep producers right now is lack of feed and lack of water. Everybody is hauling water. The ponds have dried up. A few places have had some fires go through in our county, but it hit more cattle areas than sheep areas. We lost a lot of range in the lower foothills because of orchards and vineyards going in, so we had to move up into the higher-hill areas where there are more predators. We like to stay in those lower-foothill areas because it’s more open ground for us and they don’t have a lot of trees.
The other concern we have is we don’t have surface water this year in our county, and so some alfalfa fields that only get surface water got one cutting, and those fields are disked up now. That means less fall feed for us on alfalfa. That’s going to be a major concern this fall. Normally in the fall, after they take the last cutting, we put our sheep on alfalfa. There are a number of fields that have no surface water deliveries at all, so that affected a lot of alfalfa.
A lot of people are trying to find residue feed, whatever they can. They’re going on wheat stubble, onion fields and suckering on vineyards. We have people going into walnut orchards early. But there are a lot of orchards that we can’t go on because everybody is worried about the food safety issue. It has limited what we have, because a lot of those other crops haven’t been planted because there’s not enough water. So this feed situation to keep these flocks going is a major concern.
By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County Brussels sprouts farmer
We had a nice and typically foggy summer—good sprout-growing weather. It's good for the crop, but not for the tourists. We started handpicking a few weeks ago and will continue with that until the middle of September.
In years past, there wasn't much demand for early market sprouts, but that has changed and we've seen a lot of early season consumer interest in the past few years. After hand harvest is completed during the next eight weeks, we'll start harvesting with machines and then things will really ramp up.
The crop is pretty much on time and we anticipate that will continue. We started "topping" last week on the sprouts that will be machine harvested. That's usually done about 55 days before harvest.
Topping of the terminal point on the plant is done by hand to stop it from growing. Then the energy can be redirected to developing the sprouts, for nice and even maturity. Topping involves a single worker removing the terminal growth on about 13,000 plants a day, which is usually the number of plants in a one-acre field.
Labor Day is when we see demand really increase. The holidays are our big times—Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, to tell the truth, demand in the past few years has been strong all year. Our Mexican deal was great this year from January to when we quit in June.
We've seen acreage planted to Brussels sprouts go way up during the past couple of years. And water hasn't been a big problem for us yet. But there are issues now that stream flows are considerably down. Some growers have had to switch to using city water, which is much more expensive. And some acres that would have been planted to sprouts have been curtailed.
We're looking for good coastal weather in coming months, and fewer tourists on the road, as we begin the big part of our harvest.
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