From the Fields®

Issue Date: June 14, 2017
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Here it is the second week of June and we're being treated to some very pleasant weather, including a nice little rain, which exceeded a quarter inch in our area out east of Maxwell and Delevan. Had we still been struggling to get rice planted, we would have likely faced a situation we dread: having wet fields with fertilizer applied but not ready to flood. We have unpleasant memories of situations where oxygen-starved rice struggled to grow and weed pests beat the rice out of the water.

Here in the Delevan area, we had significant rainfall until the 19th of April, with many fields still showing standing water into the month of May. Looking at all the detailed records we have kept over the years, we were reminded that these heavy clay soils in the Colusa Basin usually require a minimum of 35 days from first tillage to planting. We repaired flood damage and planted what we could until the last couple days of May.

Not having had the luxury of an open April to get the fields as dry as we'd like, we're hopeful that the new formulations of rice herbicides available this year will help with what I expect will be relatively heavy weed pressure. Biotype resistance in sprangletop and smallflower umbrellaplant has been a particular problem in our fields.

We're awaiting the estimates as to the size of the California rice crop for 2017. While reductions in planted acreage from 2016 are inevitable, the question is: Will this thin, volatile and risky market respond sufficiently to get grower returns to a profitable level again? For the long-term viability and survival of this industry, I certainly hope so.

Issue Date: June 14, 2017
By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

We are like everyone else. It has been really wet, and therefore we have had trouble getting the logs into the mills. I think all the mills in the last month at one point or another have been out of logs. And they have been desperate to buy logs, which means the price of logs is up.

We are looking at what is probably the best price we've seen for redwood in the past 10 years. There are strong prices for Douglas fir as well, not as good as we would like to see, but I'm not sure we are going to see anything better.

We are also in the spotted owl calling period. This year, I have to do six calls. We have a problem with all the bard owls, and that is why we have to do these extra calls. The bard owls have taken over the spotted owl habitat and as a result I am monitoring where the bard owls are at rather than the spotted owls, which is very frustrating because it means you can't work until after you get this calling done and we lose about six weeks out of the year.

The bard owl has moved in from the eastern United States and taken over all this habitat. As a consequence, Fish and Game is requiring these extra calls. This makes it difficult for tree farmers and really hasn't done anything to improve the situation for spotted owls. All is does is verify that the populations are going down.

Issue Date: June 14, 2017
By John Moore, Kern County diversified farmer

We’re harvesting potatoes right now. We began harvesting on May 3 and we’re about halfway through our harvest season. The early crop was decent. Rains had some effect on our early varieties and didn’t seem to have quite the same effect on our operations and crop size for later varieties. After potato harvest, we’ll follow it up with some carrots.

The market is pretty hot right now for chipper potatoes. I don’t deal with the fresh-market potatoes, but I would assume it’s the same. The Midwest and Southern states had some production issues, so potatoes from the Kern area are in high demand. Midwest storage is off. Florida has some frost pressure, and I believe Texas had some pest pressure. So we’ve been digging a lot of potatoes. It’s been very consistent this year. We’re able to meet the needs of the market right now.

We set up contracts early in the year, so we don’t deal with selling on the open market. We try to contract our tonnage so we don’t have any surprises. That was before we had those huge rains, so we were contracting based on the water supply. We were conservative on our planting and our scheduling just because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to do.

Although we’re contracted, we’re still having lots of extra buyers approach us. We’ve got our original contracts to fill, but I’m seeing a lot of demand out there. The supply is not exactly meeting the demand.

Everything is doing well on the ranch production-wise. Pistachios look decent. I don’t like to say what kind of crop we have until we harvest, but everything looks OK right now.

Almonds—our pollinators look good. I’m hearing different things, different reports throughout the state. Some people’s pollinators are on; some people’s pollinators are off. In fact, I heard that the nonpareils are a little bit off this year, but I’ve also heard from some folks in the north that nonpareils are coming in fine. Personally, on our ranch, our Montereys, which are our pollinators, are higher than our nonpareils.

Citrus is coming in. We’re starting to see decent size on our citrus. It’s another year, another lesson. Every year is different, no matter what. It’s another interesting year on the ranch.

Issue Date: June 14, 2017
By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County diversified grower

We finished all of our winter produce. We're in the middle of our spring melon and corn harvest. We had exceptional yield. We had good weather, good production and prices are down. We just finished our onion harvest, and those prices are down this year.

Alfalfa seed is what I'm growing now. That seed is being set and is blooming. That market is fairly steady. We'll harvest in mid-July. We're starting to do a lot of ground preparation for all plantings. We're still in the middle of making hay. Hay production is going strong. We're just starting our fifth cutting. We've got summer-quality hay. We're making our horse retail hay and our export hay. We're not making our dairy hay anymore. We're doing either export hay or horse-quality hay. That market is steady—kind of low but steady. It seems to be in the range of $170 to $180 a ton. We just started our first cutting of Sudan and that's a pretty strong market, bringing close to $190 (a ton) for top-quality Sudan, $50 for the off-quality Sudan.

I haven't done silage wheat in a long time, but we just finished the wheat-grain market. We do durum wheat—desert durum, which is a specialized durum wheat that's only produced in southeastern California and southwestern Arizona. It's a patented variety, and we can hit our 13 and a half percent protein and most places can't hit that high protein levels. We're just finishing up with that.

Durum wheat tends to be a higher market and our desert durum tends to be higher than the durum market. The durum market is set in North Dakota and Canada, and that's where 90 percent of the durum wheat is grown. But we grow desert durum, which is very high quality. They take our durum and blend it with Canadian and Montana wheat to blend their proteins up and they blend ours down. So we tend to get a premium for our wheat production.

The millers like our wheat because we can guarantee protein year after year. We never have a natural disaster. We never have a flood. We never have hurricanes. We never have drought because our environment is so controlled. We can do five-year contracts on wheat, which nobody else in the world could ever think about doing. That market is fairly low. It's about $12 a hundredweight, which is low for durum wheat. But it's high for most other wheat.

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.

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