From the Fields®

Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

A very wet December, January and half of February created gaps in planting schedules and adverse growing conditions. This has resulted in spikes in prices due to short supplies.

For some crops, such as iceberg lettuce and romaine, prices reached unprecedented levels. If you were fortunate enough to have product at this time, you were able to cover the cost of some of the field that had no or reduced production due to the adverse weather.

The gaps in planting due to the wet weather will also affect the timing of our rotation to our second crop. This has also caused problems in working up fields to maintain our planting schedule. Some fields had to be tilled wet, which leads to compaction problems, poor aeration of the soil and poor seed germination.

On the plus side, the rains helped to leach the salt from the soil and replenish our reservoirs and underground aquifers, and may create spikes in prices throughout the summer.

Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

Spring weather on the west side of Stanislaus County has been fairly mild with a lot of wind.

The cherry harvest in this area is beginning to finish up. Most growers were able to avoid any rain, which resulted in good quality. If cherry harvest is any indicator of the rest of the year, the availability of labor will continue to be a greater challenge for all crops.

Tomato planting is finishing up as well for most processing tomatoes. Growers have been blessed with mild temperatures for that as well, though it looks like things are going to warm up this week.

Lima bean planting is underway for farmers growing beans this year. Acreage appears to be down and seed is said to be in short supply.

Harvest of early-season apricots began about two weeks ago; processing apricots are on track to be ready for harvest around the middle of June.

The almond crop on average looks good, as do most of the walnut crops around the area.

There will continue to be fields left fallow this growing season, as farmers in the area were unsure of federal water allotments until mid-April, when planting decisions had already been made for many crops. This challenge was compounded with low commodity prices.

Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Richard Mounts, Sonoma County winegrape grower

As far as vineyards go, it is hot and heavy as the vines are just starting to bloom. Our biggest concern by far is labor. We are continuing to struggle. I lost two guys and there are no replacements around anywhere. There is nobody coming in and the people who are here don’t want to work. I get somebody new and they work for one day and I never see them again.

The vines seem to be really happy with all the rain. I have one rootstock that doesn’t like it to be too wet, but as soon as the weather warmed up, they took off again.

There was a lot of concern about flooding along the rivers, but it had pretty much subsided by the time the vines started to grow. I look at the bunches, but I don’t do bunch counts per se because we’ve found that bunch counts don’t tell you very much. It is all about set.

We are just going into bloom now. Some varieties have started. Cabernet hasn’t really started yet, but zinfandel is about halfway through bloom. Fortunately, the weather is turning nice, so hopefully we will get a good set. Either they won’t fall off or they will fall off. You never know.

Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

Getting bees out of the tree crops was challenging this year because of the late rains. So right now, we are working on the bees and making up losses and getting hives ready for some summer pollination and honey production. We stay local for summer pollination, focusing on vine crops like melons and cucumbers and some seed clover. Then in the fall we do some pumpkins.

Once the bees made it past January, they were OK. Once they were able to pollinate the trees, they did great and we don't have any complaints in that respect.

I have been maintaining hive numbers. We wanted to see what was on the horizon because the drought took its toll on a lot of things over the past few years. We felt that a lot of the honey plants were not in abundance. So, we figured we would have a look-and-see position.

We had a lot of moisture, which was good, but it is still going to take a couple years or more to get plants back to where they used to be prior to the drought. This year, even though there was plenty of rain, a lot of plants passed their bloom period so they weren't going to bloom this year. So, when we get into a regular cycle again, if that ever happens, we will be able to do what we used to do.

The queen rearing this year also took a hit. This has to be done during a very narrow window, and because of the storms, we were getting maybe only about 50 percent take on queen mating. This means a lot of hives will be done later in the season. We've always tried to do it earlier, before it gets too hot.

A lot of the bees that came into the state are probably out of the state right now. But because the weather in those other areas wasn't conducive to bees, they weren't eager to get them out in a big rush. The crops that bloom where those bees go are also delayed.

Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By James Durst, Yolo County organic grower

With late rains and frosts this year, our asparagus harvesting season started about two to three weeks later than normal. Yields have been respectable, with excellent quality in March and April. We are hoping high temperatures can hold off for a while so we can pick up some later production in June.

We are finishing snap peas this week. We have seen more blight than usual in our peas due to high humidity and continued wet weather. But yields have been above normal due to good bloom set and excellent growing conditions.

We have been installing underground PVC and drip tape in new fields, and this was somewhat challenging with rain periodically every week. We should have this hooked up and operating about two days before transplanting is to begin.

Our fresh-market tomatoes are running about a week late, with speck and spot showing up in some varieties. We have been treating with copper, and hotter weather should diminish this fungus. We are staking and tying our first plantings.

Grain crops look excellent, with high yields predicted and fields relatively weed-free.

All our organic barley goes to dairies for feed. Pricing is a little lower this year.

It is refreshing to see district water canals full to the brim with plenty of water available this year. We were truly blessed by this winter's rains and we can all work with the consequences.

Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop grower

I have roughly 3,000 acres of almonds, 155 acres of pistachios and 225 acres of high-density olives.

The olives right now are starting to bloom. The bloom looks really good. Pistachios had a pretty good bloom. Pollination might have been a little sketchy, but it's way too soon to tell what kind of a set we're going to get. In my area, we had some showers, nothing significant. More than anything, we've had a lot of wind. For the olives and pistachios, I don't think that affected them much.

My primary crop is almonds and they've gone through their drop, which is stuff the tree wasn't going to hang onto and has fallen off. The crop looks pretty good, at least in my area. We're putting on our nitrogen and we're keeping our profiles full of water, keeping the weeds under control. We're probably going to do a May spray for miticide and maybe a fungicide with a little foliar on the almonds, so that's coming up. Prices are a little soft, but that's to be expected.

We're keeping an eye on what the water situation is going to be like on the Westside. For federal water districts, we have 100 percent allocation. I think the biggest problem for a lot of growers now is: How do you plan for next year? They're going to allow very minimal amounts of what they call rescheduled water, which is water you carry from one year to the next, because the reservoir should maintain a pretty high level, so there won't be any space to carry over water. There's a lot of growers on the Westside right now that have carryover water from 2016 and even 2015 that is in the San Luis Reservoir, and if you don't use it, you're going to lose it, even though you paid for it.

We're not overwatering, but we're not holding back. It is carryover water that has been purchased over the last several years. The prices have been upwards of $800 to $1,200 an acre-foot. There are growers that have a million dollars' worth of water in San Luis Reservoir and they have a chance of losing a percentage of that. It's strange times. I've been doing this for 25 years. We've always survived, but nobody has ever seen a year like this before in these situations with all the regulations that the bureau and the water quality control boards are putting on us. It's a challenge.

Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

For our alfalfa, we are in our third cutting and it looks like we have gotten good yields to date and the protein values for dairy markets are doing well. We are off to a very slow start, but we are back on track now with good, clean alfalfa fields with good nutritional value. So the alfalfa is moving along well and we are anticipating getting into hot, dry conditions, so things will get more challenging. The price for alfalfa remains fairly stable. I was anticipating a considerable drop in price during our second cutting and the price was fairly firm, so I think it may be a fairly good year for alfalfa pricing.

Our cotton crop looks good. We are at about pinhead-square. I would say we are dealing with fairly heavy thrips pressure, not as bad as I have seen in some years, but we definitely have to treat for them. We have a pretty good stand and nice growing conditions since the first part of February.

We anticipate garlic and onion harvest beginning sometime in mid-June, and these two crops look pretty good. We were concerned about wet weather in December and January, that we would have a lot of rust and mildew, but it hasn't been as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

Sonoma County dairies have started chopping silage in the past week or so. A word from the wise: Get a good tow cable, you'll probably need it. Some of the crop is overripe, some is immature and in mud, but overall it's time to go, and you don't want to play catch-up all season long.

My early planted hay crop is much the same: not very exciting, but not a disaster either. Anywhere that had puddles for more than a few days, the crop is stunted and green, while a hundred feet away, the crop is full and ripening. We'll start cutting in the next week.

Our bread and butter, moneymaker crop is the late-planted hay. We always have good demand for this from feed stores and horse stables. This year, we planted in March and through much of April. That crop is way behind the early planted, but it is uniform and looks like it will be exceptional quality.

During the drought years, we had some very poor performance from our broadleaf herbicides. This year, with abundant rainfall, they performed very well; one less problem to worry about.

Cattlemen are looking at an abundance of pasture this spring and a recovering beef market. I hope they will grow their herds and make a little more demand for hay.

Vineyards in the area started budding out late this year. That's a big relief to me, as it gives me longer to use restricted herbicides. Those are the ones that work really well. Several vineyards have had problems with their early spraying due to soggy fields.

Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

It was hot for several days, in the low 90s. I really don't need that kind of hot weather for my grain, but it is probably going to cool off. I have about 300 acres of oat and barley mix and I will probably start cutting next week. But I am waiting to see if it is going to rain first. The grain is still very green yet. I planted later than usual. It was late January or the first of February before I got all my seeds in the ground.

The market is about the same as last year. Probably about $200 a ton, and most of my grain goes to horses. I have a few cow guys, but most of it is nice horse hay.

There aren't as many horses as there used to be. When the price of feed got so outrageous a few years back, a lot of people got rid of their horses. Just like me, I had 40 or 50 cows five or six years ago and now I have six.

In 2012 through 2014, I had no crop because of the drought, but the last couple years have been better. The last couple years were fair years. I wouldn't call them good years. This year is maybe getting into the good range. It looks like I am going to have a crop between fair and good. It isn't that tall, but hay that is grown under dry conditions is very sweet and it feeds very well. It is quite different from irrigated hay. My customers tell me that after their animals have been eating dry-farmed hay, they want nothing to do with the irrigated hay.

Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

It's been about three weeks since we've had any measurable rain on the farm and for this year that feels like eternity. It's been a needed opportunity to finish up suckering and pruning trees. In a normal year, those activities would have been finished in March.

This past week, temperatures jumped into the mid-90s and while everyone has been talking about looking forward to seeing the sun again, I'm not sure we are ready to jump full into summer yet. Strong, drying north winds were also a reminder of how fast our green farms will start turning brown.

The biggest activity this past week is getting irrigation for the olives online. The last two years we ran a few irrigation cycles in the wintertime, due to the drought. This allowed us to stay up on repairs and leaks in the system. We started our first irrigation cycle since October on May 1. Needless to say, it's been a busy week of digging, cutting and gluing. The olive trees won't bloom for another week and, looking at the inflorescences, it is going to be a big bloom. We'll have to wait until June to see actual set, but for now, we're hopeful for a big year.

The month of May is also the start of our peak sales season, as seasonal farmers markets open and we see increased traffic in our tasting room with travelers. This year has already seen a big increase in out-of-town visitors coming to the farm. The two big reasons—stunning wildflowers on Table Mountain and Oroville Dam.

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