From the Fields® - May 23, 2018

By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County citrus grower

The new year started off bleak. Winter was dry and warmer than expected, with the exception of a couple of frost occurrences. Rainfall and snowpack were nonexistent, and it looked like we were headed for another 2014.

Then Mother Nature helped us out, gave us a semi-"Miracle March," and water supplies and allocations were adjusted to a manageable level. The general feeling is growers are starting to look at their overall irrigation differently than in the past.

Lemons and navels were of high quality and, with good export and domestic demand, returns have been favorable. Valencias are in full swing for the east side. Flavor is good, but retaining color has been an issue. There has been some regreening taking place.

Bloom seemed to last forever this year and we are glad it's over. It looks like a nice piece count and fruit is starting to size, but the effects of the extended bloom are evident with the varying early size. We will see what "June drop" leaves us with.

The weather has been unpredictable for this time of the year, with unusual temperature swings. It has been an enjoyable spring, but pleasant days are behind us.

We have finished our foliar fertilizer applications for now. Everyone is gearing up for the inevitable heat and applying post-set crop protection for thrips, California red scale and rind-damaging insects. So far, so good. We will start another round of fertigation to continue fruit development soon. We look forward to a consistent growing season.

By John Moore, Kern County diversified grower

We started our first day of potato harvest on May 16. The crop will be shipped to Frito-Lay and other customers that take chipper potatoes. We are starting slower than we have in the past, starting slower than we did last year because there's a lot of storage potatoes left in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, so it's affected our shipments in Kern. That being said, we are really getting into the swing of things this week.

Our early potato crop was delayed because of some frost that we took in February. In late February, we had some frost in the valley that set back all of our early plantings. But it corresponded with late shipments for the West, so we're getting into the season a couple of weeks later than we would have otherwise.

And it looks like we're going to be shipping later into July and maybe even into August, which is extremely late for us down in this part of the valley. It's problematic in terms of quality because it gets so hot in Bakersfield and the surrounding areas that potatoes don't really fare too well. Usually for us, because we're on the early end, we try to end around the 4th of July or the second week of July. This year, we're probably going to go to the end of July, even into August.

We just hope we start shipping more potatoes. We set a contract every year with our purchaser and then we'll set up a matrix to ship potatoes along that matrix. But when things are off like this year, you have to be flexible and change as you grow and try to stay within the contract that you set up.

It can be a challenge at times, so you have to look for different outlets and change your options. It just changes things in the way that your plan is not exactly your plan anymore.

The pistachio crop is coming on. It looks decent, though it's a little too early to tell what it's going to be, but we have clusters on the trees and they're a good size.

Almonds are coming along. It's looking like the damage that was forecast is not quite what it's shaped up to be, at least in the south valley. We're expecting an average crop.

Citrus is coming on as well. It's really too early to say what the crop is going to be, but there are no issues as of yet.

By Greg Gonzalez, Monterey County winegrape grower

Currently, we are in the shoot-thinning and suckering time. Here in Monterey County, we are looking at 24-inch shoot growth right now, so it is kind of on the tail end of shoot thinning. We are now starting to see bloom in chardonnay and pinot noir. That's in the northern county: Greenfield, Soledad, King City. We are just starting to see the beginning of bloom in our merlots and cabernets farther south in the San Lucas area.

There's not a lot of labor availability, which I guess is the norm these days. The vegetable crops are in extreme harvest mode, so I have yet to see a day where there weren't hundreds of people harvesting lettuce out of the Salinas Valley. It is a little bit of a battle, but we have been able to keep a fairly secure labor force with us, say 60 people or so. I am fine with that because they are quality employees. There is a constant struggle with grape crews, but we benefit by maintaining constant work for the crews, so they seem to be sticking around and becoming fairly loyal. But they aren't crews of 20 people anymore; they are crews of 12 to 15 on a good day.

It has been perfect weather for mildew in the Greenfield area. We haven't been hitting the 80s; it has been in the high 70s for the last two weeks, with cloudy mornings that clear around 1 p.m. And then the wind comes in, so it hasn't really warmed up. It's not bad bloom weather, but not perfect bloom weather.

We are ecstatic at how clean things are in general compared to the last two years, when there had been great challenges. That means that all the efforts we are putting in for spray coverage and evaluations are paying off right now. The guys are really paying attention to their calibrations and the coverage they are getting with each pass.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

It's been a strange spring, colder than expected, wetter than expected and bizarre periods of high heat.

We've been planting for a few weeks now and are slightly behind schedule, but things can always change in agriculture. Melon acreage should be similar this season, but we wouldn't be surprised by additional acreage with a higher federal water allocation.

New varieties have changed the landscape for melons. More customers are requesting fruit for processing, so we are growing more hard-shell melons with more meat and higher brix levels. Unfortunately, some of these varieties are lagging behind on flavor, so moving forward we've directed seed companies to put a great emphasis on better eating quality.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

It has definitely been an interesting and challenging 2018 so far. From 85 degree highs in January to lows in the mid-20s, from drought-like conditions to flooding, this winter has brought about a wide range of weather conditions with which we've had to deal.

We, as farmers, expect to have to deal with adverse weather, that is just part of the game we play with Mother Nature. What wasn't expected was the latest food safety outbreak.

Even though Coastal California production areas are not implicated, sensationalized headlines in the media added to the fear and confusion and has contributed to the extremely weak demand for romaine lettuce.

Though the spring has not been as prosperous as we had hoped, we are still optomistic that things will be better for the rest of this year.