From the Fields® - June 13, 2018

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

The big news out of Mendocino County is that Pacific Gas & Electric has decided not to continue to operate the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project, and instead put it up for auction.

There is now a lot of speculation as to what this will mean for the farmers, ranchers and estimated 600,000 people in Mendocino and Sonoma counties who rely on that water.

Fortunately, spring has come and gone with very little frost. Vineyards are coming out strong across all varieties. Pre-bloom cluster counts are down slightly from average, but cluster size looks good and may offset the counts, leading to an average or just above average crop, depending on bloom and set of course.

The pear crop looks average or just below average. Sadly, we have seen more pear acreage come out of production this spring in the Ukiah Valley, due to non-renewing of contracts from a couple of key packers and canneries.

By Bob Steinacher, Tehama County orchardist

We are right in the middle of our growing season for figs. There wasn't enough of a first crop to begin harvesting, so we are not going to do a first crop at all. Our second crop is starting to show some sizing and it grows very rapidly at this stage. I expect harvest to start at a normal time this year, which is early August, which will help us get back onto a more normal schedule. Everything is growing well. Temperatures have been moderate and we haven't had a lot of extreme heat for extended periods of time. I hope that continues throughout the summer.

We are fresh marketers of figs, so we are very dependent on labor, which has been a major issue for the last several years. It is getting more and more difficult for us to find workers who are willing to put the effort into it.

We pay by the hour because we want them to do the best job possible, but people just don't want to work very hard, or they want to take a day off here and a day off there, and it messes up production because the figs don't stop ripening just because it is Sunday.

Our walnut crop is looking good. At first, I thought with the bloom that it was going to be light, but it looks to be normal for us, which I am happy about. There are quite a few doubles, some singles and no triples. The trees are growing well and I hope we can get the nuts to size properly before the shell hardens off.

We are using groundwater exclusively. We do have surface water available, but it is very inconsistent and costly. I haven't looked at the groundwater level this year, so I don't know how much it recovered over the winter. The one problem we are having is that there are orchards all around us on land where nothing was planted before. So, all those pumps are feeding off the same aquifer, so the demand keeps increasing in our area.

I see more olives coming out, because the market for table olives is declining and the packers are buying olives from overseas for a lot less money than our farmers can grow them for. The olives are being replaced with almonds and walnuts, and occasionally prunes.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County apple grower

We are anticipating a decent apple crop. We've finished our thinning at this point and the counts look very good. We have fruit on the trees, which is where you start. So far, the weather has been very cooperative, so it has been good for sizing.

At this point, we are just waiting on time to let the trees do their thing. If it gets warm, we will start the overhead cooling systems and fight sunburn, which is our No. 1 battle every year on Gala and Granny Smith apples. At this point we are cautiously optimistic about what the crop may look like. We are down to Gala and Granny on our operation. We have taken out the Fuji and Pink Lady varieties.

All our fruit goes to Prima Fruita and Prima Vera and from there to retail markets. About 25 to 30 percent goes to export. We are coming off one of the best years ever in 2017. I don't know what is going to happen in 2018; it's up in the air right now as far as what the market is going to do for us. We obviously have tariff issues to deal with in Mexico and Canada, and I'm not sure what that will do to our export market. But I anticipate there to be some sort of negative effect on our export markets with those tariffs in place.

We are about eight days later than we were last year, so I anticipate us starting to harvest around the first of August and then go for two weeks, and then we will start Grannies sometime around Labor Day. Everything is hand harvested. We had plenty of labor for thinning. I think that is partly because of the light cherry crop and there were people who took the work of thinning apples instead. But when we get to harvest time that is going to be our biggest challenge this year, to find adequate labor.

Water looks to be OK this year. We have a full allocation from our sources so we should be fine there. Who knows what the following year looks like, but at this point everything looks to be fine.

We had probably one of the worst fire-blight years we've ever had this spring. Weather conditions were perfect for fire blight. At this point, it has been contained and I think we are OK. But as we move into the season, our typical fight is with codling moth and as long as we take care of that, we are in good shape.

By Peter Culhane, Los Angeles County olive grower

Los Angeles County's rainfall this winter got our trees off to a fine blastoff for another growing season. Our irrigation system was turned on May 1 and we are now diligently working in the grove to produce a great harvest of our olives for 2018.

There are three varietals of olive trees in the grove; Mission, Manzanillo and Picholine. Over the years, our olive oil has been awarded numerous prizes because the blend of these three varietals creates a fantastic tasting olive oil.

Our grove is located high in the Santa Monica Mountains just south of Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean, getting the sea breezes and warm sun of Southern California.

There are very few olive growers left here in Los Angeles County, and we feel such an honor to be working hard at our agricultural operation while keeping this old and true culture going strong and still growing.

Labor costs are getting higher with each annual harvest, but thankfully we have a great picking crew who has been with us for many years and for many years to come.

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County orchardist

We had late rains here; March was very wet, so it largely made the year for us with water. We are still short, but it looks like we will make it through. Of course, it made a mess out of weed control, and we are finally caught up on that. We are finishing our second complete round of lemon harvest, and we got good quality and size. Prices seem to have been good, so that is looking OK.

We did a little early size-picking of our avocado crop, and there wasn't much there. I have a few more days to wait out on my thrips spray and then we will start our final and ultimate pick at the end of June. We have been hurt by weather in terms of fruit size. The heat spell we had in late October really cut down on the sizing and maturity of the avocados.

Labor is tight. We are getting the job done, but it isn't easy. Years ago, we could call a contractor and get a crew within a day or two, but now you'd better be talking to your contractor early in the season and be sure to be scheduling crews at least a couple weeks in advance.

I have my own water and our situation is OK for the year. There are a lot of people who are paying anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 per acre-foot for district water.