From the Fields® - July 20, 2016

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County apple grower

California Gala harvest began for us on July 11. This is the second year in a row for an early start. Is this the new normal?

With typical Central Valley cool mornings and evenings and only a few spells of extremely hot (100+) weather and with available water for overhead cooling, apples look to be coloring and sizing nicely as we harvest our Galas over the next three weeks.

Early Fuji and Granny Smith harvests will follow almost immediately behind the Gala harvest. These varieties also look to be of good quality and size.

While California apple production has shrunk over the last decade, the retail market has supported the consumers' appetite for the first fresh apple to hit the produce shelves, and prices look to be above average for the upcoming season.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower

Its been a couple of years since I reported on San Benito County. The two primary fruit tree crops, bing cherries and Blenheim drying apricots, both came two-plus weeks early and then left as a bust for the cherries and a really good-quality 'cot crop that was as light as it gets.

The cherries set a very light crop on the older trees and an average crop on the younger trees (younger trees do better with less winter chilling hours), but regardless that nice early May two-tenths of an inch of rain split enough of the fruit that the crop was beyond salvage.

The apricots were large and sweet and made great dried product, but the yield was so low that the increased value for quality fruit will likely not offset the lack of tonnage. Cutting 'cots was always a July 4th spoiler for the student summer workers, but this year we were done by the third week of June. As a side note, a lot of people that grew up in the county who are now 40 years or older remember during summer vacation as their first job cutting 'cots. Between the 50 cents a tray filled with apricots sliced in two combined with picking prunes in early September at $5 a bin, I was able to buy my Schwinn Stingray.

The winegrape and walnut crops are promising. While statewide acreage of walnuts has caught up with demand, lowering prices, organic walnuts are still in demand. Winter runoff recharging our groundwater has left us in decent shape.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

In our area, we have just completed wheat harvest, and dry bean harvest is nearly completed. Tomato harvest will begin next week, and the week after that we will be harvesting garlic. Two or three weeks after that, we will begin shaking the almonds.

The pima cotton looks really good. The bolls are setting well and we are hopeful for an uneventful harvest.

Everything seems to be on an early start, and yields range from average to above average. The pistachios will be coming on a little later in the year, as well as winegrape harvest.

With the crops we have harvested so far, the quality has been very good. The protein level in the wheat is up and the dry beans are coming in very clean.

Water remains very tight. We are purchasing some water and using our wells extensively. On the federal project, we have only gotten 5 percent, which is in contrast to the state project, with those farmers getting 60 to 65 percent. The federal project has a great amount of difficulty pumping the water from Shasta down to here, and it is mostly all due to regulatory restrictions that are in place.

We fallowed up to 1,500 acres again this year and this is our fourth year in a row of doing that. It is simply because we don't have any surface water deliveries.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer

We are doing our last irrigation on our almonds and we anticipate that we will start our harvest around the first of August. We don't have a huge crop, but it will be a good, above-average crop.

On the walnuts, we are in the process of doing our codling moth and husk fly sprays. We will continue to irrigate and fertilize and then we will start ground preparation. I anticipate that everything is probably going to be about two weeks early. I know that the few peaches and apricots that we have were 10 days earlier than normal.

We have a very light crop of prunes here in the Winters area. There are some orchards that probably will not be harvested. It will be a light crop. I don't know if we can get a ton to the acre dry. It looks like we will be harvesting the almonds before we start on the prunes.

The pistachios are also going to be early. We seem to have a better crop this year than last year, and so we are trying to finish up the irrigations. It looks like that harvest will start around the end of August.

Labor is extremely short and I am very concerned that I might not be able to have a 100 percent harvesting crew. Fortunately, the prunes will be a very short crop, but in the almonds and walnuts and pistachios, I am very concerned about whether I will have enough labor.

We are basically paying $11 an hour at entry level, which is above the minimum wage. I am not going to get into a bidding war, paying higher and higher wages to try to rob people from other farmers, because I don't believe that the people are there. So that is a major concern.

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

The Central Coast is alive and at the peak of the season with strawberry and vegetable production.

Strawberry harvest is saturated and, as a result, prices are down. Surprising that acreage is down overall from a year ago.

Vegetable harvest is consistent and without surprise. Given regional markets are coming on, I think we can expect flat prices, barring any major weather events.

Monterey County nursery crops are seeing better movement thanks to a wetter winter.

Having just hosted Steve Forbes for the 2016 Ag-Tech Summit in Salinas, optimism and pride is high in the Salinas Valley.

By John Ellis, Kings County farm commodities sales manager

Processing tomato and safflower harvest started in early July and are going smoothly. The wheat harvest is finished in our area. Too soon to tell yield and quality for the tomatoes and safflower, but we are hopeful that we will have good crops this year.

Cotton growers are monitoring their crops for pests and timing their irrigations to maximize their yields. With the warmest months of the year here, farmers are adjusting their employees' work schedules as much as possible to avoid working times when temperatures are high.

Some neighbors are deep-ripping soils to get ready to plant permanent crops. I noticed this happening at a dairy where there were no more cows in the barn. This is a sign of continuing economic tough times for this important industry.

Kings County's top earning commodity in 2015 was milk, so our local economy truly depends on a strong dairy industry. The dairies rely on corn for silage as one of their primary food sources and that crop is currently at all stages of growth, from just planted to getting close to harvest.

I also see a lot of sorghum planted as well, a crop that can be grown successfully and which uses less water than corn.

I know farmers are hopeful that more storage can be built to help us get more water for our areas.