From the Fields® - July 20, 2011

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By Keith Watkins, Tulare County citrus grower

We completed our navel harvest and have moved into the valencias. This is a typical slow movement period through the summer months here in Tulare County. On the farming side, we are doing some pest control applications for red scale and citricola scale, and irrigating and fertilizing.

We had a very large crop of navel oranges this year. The quality was average, but the volume was way up. It seems like when we have a mild spring like we had this year and last year, the trees have a tendency to set a larger crop, but navels will alternate-bear somewhat so it looks like next year's crop will be a little bit lighter.

Valencias are only a small part of our business any more and the number of acres is way down from what it used to be. This year's crop looks to be a decent crop.

We have grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, pommelos, Oro Blancos, everything. This is a good year for all citrus. Prices are down a bit from the previous year, but the volume is up so it kind of offsets.

By Stephanie Leimgruber, Imperial County hay and grain grower

No surprise, it's a hot summer in the Imperial Valley. The usual crops are coming off this time of year. Wheat harvest is done and growers are selling current wheat and next year's contracts. After the domestic dairy industry's high demand for early cutting alfalfa, exporters are buying up summer alfalfa, bermuda grass and sudan grass. Sugar beet harvest is wrapping up after a record number of planted acres last year due to high sugar prices.

After much deliberation, Imperial Valley growers and Monsanto have mutually agreed to the restriction of Roundup Ready alfalfa from Imperial County for a minimum of three years. This action was taken to protect the substantial amount of exports from this area of conventional alfalfa hay and seed to countries that do not currently accept GMO crops. The restriction will be enforced by an exclusion clause in Monsanto's use agreement. While Imperial County farmers are generally accepting of the production benefits of genetically engineered alfalfa hay, they did not want to jeopardize their markets in countries, such as China and the United Arab Emirates, that are not yet open to receiving the new product, but who may in the future.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified grower

There is a lot of activity here in the county. We are getting ready for hull split in almonds and other than that we are just trying to keep everything wet after the recent heat spell. The pumpkins look good and are growing very well. The corn is growing fast. And it is fair time, so we are in fair mode. I'm just trying to get everything taken care of so I can be down at the fair and have a good time.

Almonds look really good. They are behind a little bit and progressing a little bit slower, but the market is trying to settle itself out from the recent announcement of a record crop this year.

We are doing the pumpkin patch again this year and right now I am working on the design for the corn maze. The corn is about eight to 10 inches tall, so I am trying to get it where I cut it sooner rather than later. And it all involves technology, so I put my two college-graduated kids on it and they are trying to work it with a GPS device. It is in the shape of a ghost. Besides the corn for the maze, I have a lot of other corn in the ground right now. We are busy spraying for mites and doing regular summer irrigation in the corn fields.

The water situation in Stanislaus County is very good. The Tuolumne River is still running pretty high for this time of year. This is one of the latest, if not the latest, runoff periods. We are in the middle of July and we are having tremendous runoff. Nobody knows quite how to predict that.

There is plenty of water and the reservoirs are all full. So it is very encouraging.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

The winegrapes are behind compared to last year by at least two weeks. Everything now depends on what Mother Nature does as we go forward. There hasn't been verasion yet and the normal verasion is around the 4th of July, the first week of July. Everything is still green.

There is mildew that is showing up in vineyards throughout the county, so growers are putting on additional protective measures to control it because of the cool weather.

The crop looks to be on the lighter side. You can really start to tell what you have when the grapes start turning color and they really stand out from the leaves. The bunch counts are down and they are loose bunches because of the cool weather.

Every year is unusual. We thought last year was cool and this year is even cooler. I don't think we will even start picking grapes until September and usually we start in August sometime. It all depends on the weather moving forward and, if it is a lighter crop, it will ripen up faster.

We started harvesting cherries the first week of June. We picked one day and then we had rain the next day. We had to stop picking on that orchard because the orchard was destroyed from all the cracks in the cherries. We had another orchard that looked OK and we actually picked for five days, which was pretty amazing.

\We had to pay the pickers twice as much as they were getting before because they had to do a lot of field sorting. But the price was high enough that we could do that and it still penciled out. So we were able to get some of the crop out. But we only picked about 40 percent of what we picked last year, and last year was a down crop too because of rains we had then.

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

It's finally hot; last week saw temperatures reaching 100-degrees plus. It would be easy to complain, if it wasn't only four weeks ago that I was standing in a downpour at a farmers market complaining with other farmers about the weather being cold and miserable.

Certainly the oddest spring in the last 20 years for our farm has resulted in a sporadic bloom in the orchard. I generally plan on the orchard being in full bloom by May 15 and the orchards have already had one irrigation cycle. For the first time, I had olive trees blooming in June and another inch of rain fell in the middle of June. It's not a good sign for a bumper crop this winter, but as the olives begin to appear (about the size of peas now), all does not appear lost.

I'm looking forward to forcasted days of low to mid-80 degree weather. With Lake Oroville finally at capacity and improved weather, our farmers markets and tasting room have seen increased traffic as people start to take those day or weekend trips they put off because of the poor weather in the spring.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County dairy farmer

The summer heat in the south valley has seen wide swings in temperature. One week it's hot, the next it's not. Cows are not fans of heat and production drops during hot periods. Lucky for them, we have fairly advanced cooling systems in place to help them get through it.

Even though current milk prices are at near-record levels (primarily driven by export demand), high feed costs are still causing thin margins for producers. Corn is bouncing around at record levels, transportation costs are high, and alfalfa supply and quality is low. Many producers in the area are currently looking to utilize put options on milk futures to protect margins over the next year.

There is a lot of discussion throughout the nation on the Foundation for the Future plan. (See story, Page 1). This plan aims to minimize milk volatility by reforming the current milk marketing system. The plan includes a program similar to crop insurance, deregulating federal milk markets, and includes a milk supply management program. The program is expected to be included in the next farm bill.