From the Fields® - September 4, 2013

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By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County Brussels sprouts farmer

We’re starting to top the sprouts, which we do about 55 days before harvest. The terminal bud is pinched off the top of the plant to help make the sprouts even along the stem, which is good for machine harvesting.

Right now, we’re picking by hand because they mature from the bottom up. About the third week of September, we’ll start machine harvesting. That’s coming up pretty soon.

Our volume will go up to about 4,000 cartons a week, and peak at about 15,000 cartons a week. Demand for Brussels sprouts has been exceedingly good for the last few years. We haven’t been able to meet demand.

Regular consumers are buying more sprouts and, since it has been named a super food, it’s appearing on more restaurant menus. In fact, we’re hearing Brussels sprouts and kale are the two hottest items in grocery store produce sections.

It’s like my father’s ties. They went out of style, but now they’re back in again. It’s hard to evaluate how solid the trend is, but I look at supply and demand. The price has been good the last few years. This is a nice turnaround, compared to 20 years ago when we saw demand decreasing.

We’ve planted a few more acres and growers overall have planted quite a few more acres, with new players joining the fray. Some of the big grower-shippers around Castroville are growing their own sprouts. Acreage has probably increased by as much as 30 percent, compared to a few years ago, and we’re still not meeting demand.

We’re still worried about labor as we prepare for the holiday push. A few weeks before Thanksgiving through the end of the year is our strongest sales period. Growers are having trouble getting crews and there are permanent signs in Spanish along the highway offering jobs.

By Darin Titus, Glenn County diversified farmer

Almond harvest is well underway here in the north state. We are about 10 to 14 days ahead of last year’s start date, but hull dry-down times for pickup have been ridiculously long for this time of year. The trees have been shaking clean, which should speed up our winter polling efforts and hopefully help get navel orangeworm pressure back in check. Preliminary yields are looking marginally strong based on field run truckload counts leaving the orchards. We’ll have to see how the rejects and shell-out percentages play out once they get through processing.

Prune harvest is two-thirds to three-quarters completed and it looks like the Glenn County area has very good size with respectable green tonnage leaving the field. Table olive growers are starting to think about preparing fields for harvest. Their second-biggest concern next to yields is if enough picking labor shows up this fall to bring in the crop. It was nip and tuck for most of last season.

Dairy producers are evaluating corn fields, and it won’t be long before the silage choppers and trucks move in. Talking with my neighbor, he thought they would be taking a sample cutting in his grain corn fields sometime next week, and the rest will be soon to follow. Rice is poking its head out of the boot here and there, so I would expect to see rice growers pulling drain boards in the next several weeks.

Hay cutting in the valley has gone on and on with the longer growing season. Lack of dew this spring made it a challenge for all to put up hay, but the past several weeks have provided ample opportunity to make up for lost time due to a cooler air mass that has moved onshore. Walnuts are starting to get spray ripened in order to synchronize shake schedules and walnut huller/driers are finishing repairs. Hope all of you have a safe and profitable harvest season.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We are two weeks ahead of where we were last year, with last year being a little bit late and this year being a little bit early. Our yields appear to be average. Right now, the weather couldn’t be much better for growing grapes. Grapes like temperatures in the mid-to-low 90s during the day and the unique thing about Lodi is that we have a 35 to 40 degree difference between the daytime high and nighttime low. That puts a lot of body and color and complexity into the wines. We are fortunate to have that here because we are in a direct line with the Carquinez Strait, so we get that cooling in the evening, whereas other parts of the state don’t cool down like we do.

Labor-wise, we are fortunate that most of the fruit coming off in Lodi is machine harvested. Grapes are such a labor intensive crop during the summer months that we were really struggling with labor and in many cases, we had to make decisions to forego labor inputs completely. Our labor costs are 100 percent higher than they need be just because we were not getting to the blocks in a timely manner.

With harvest being more mechanized, we are getting some relief in the labor market.

Grape prices are pretty stable. They are definitely up and this is a good time for growers to make more profit and either expand or buy more tractors or pay down debt.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County orchardist

We’re finishing up prune harvest, which started in mid-August, which is two weeks ahead of harvest last year. Most of our orchards are yielding about 30 percent less than last year, but two of our orchards were above last year. I haven’t figured that one out.

At the same time, we began shaking almonds. We should be finishing the nonpareils next week, but have run into problems getting the hulls to dry because of high humidity. But, I decided we couldn’t wait to harvest any longer, even if more unwanted material is present when we deliver the product. The almonds also are about two weeks ahead, which is good because we don’t want them to get any fall rain.

Pistachio harvest is about two weeks away. We’re trying not to have too many crop harvests overlap.

Market prices are strong, but it will be months before we’re fully paid.

The labor supply is the tightest I’ve seen in my 38 years of farming, particularly getting skilled workers who know how to operate the equipment. Some of the people who’ve worked for me for many years can’t cross the border.

I’m deeply concerned about this and Congress needs to get off its duff and get something done. I have employees who’ve helped me for many years, people we depend on. We need them and we need a workable guestworker program. If Americans want to eat, then we need to do the right thing and pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

By Philip Bowles, Merced County diversified farmer

This year continues to be about two weeks ahead of normal. We are finishing the cantaloupes, which are above average in both yield and quality.

I have been concerned about our processing tomatoes all year, on account of the light-to-moderate curlytop and the high heat in June. We only have one field harvested, however, and it is excellent. We’ll see.

We sold a lot of corn at a good price last fall, so this year we planted a considerable acreage. The place looks like Iowa. We got started on the corn last week and are 10 percent complete. So far the yield is a little above average. Other than early season groundsel, no problems with alfalfa this year, but we’re fighting to maintain quality, like everybody else.

As to cotton, I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think this is the best crop I have ever seen. We finished the final irrigations last week. The Hazera is outstanding. Defoliation and harvest should go smoothly, given the maturity of the crop. None of our crops have had any unusual insect or disease issues this year, except for the curlytop in tomatoes, which was probably more of an annoyance than anything.

Another year to count one’s blessings. They all are, but sometimes it comes a little easier.