From the Fields® - October 9, 2019

By Greg Gonzales, Monterey County winegrape grower

We are about halfway through our grape harvest. The weather has been up and down for us. We have occasional hot days, up and down. We were about 75% through the pinot noir and about halfway through the cabernet sauvignon. It has been a weird year because a little bit of everything has come in. We have cabernet, pinot noir, merlot, petit syrah. So, it is very relative to when you started pruning, the size of the crop load.

So far, our weather has been on the cooler side in terms of September. The great thing about Monterey County is that when we have Indian summer, we continue to get fairly warm days where we usually pop out at around 75 degrees and then weeks in the high 80s and 90s in October. As long as it doesn't get cold and we get some frost, everything should be fine. Everything is going to ripen up well and let's just hope that Mother Nature keeps any big storms away from us as well. Consistency is what Monterey County give you, so we are getting great fruit again. It is a tight market right now. I think everybody knows that. But everyone is making the best of it. We are chugging along.

We are about 95% mechanical and we are doing some small lots with hand harvesting and some with machine harvesting. A lot of it is economics. There is real competition for hand crews in Monterey County. There are more lucrative piece loads out there, so we are making things happen one way or another, whether it is hand crews or machine harvesting.

It has been a great year because we got some great rain early on. We are slightly behind in terms of degree days, but it is nothing that we haven't seen in the past. So, things should be going well for the next several weeks.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

We are still in the middle of harvest season on the westside of Stanislaus County. Almond harvest is starting to wind down; most growers have finished shaking the pollinator varieties except for a few late fritz blocks, but they should be ready to go anytime.

Almonds yields have been down in our area, especially most of the pollinators. So far growers are seeing 10-20% decrease from last year's yields. Self pollinating varieties like Independence and Shasta seemed to have good yields and have been less impacted by challenging weather during pollination.

Tomato harvest in the area is over halfway through; yields have varied depending on weather conditions at planting and bloom as well as disease pressure and variety. Lima bean growers have been cutting beans for several weeks now, and as the windrows dry, threshing machines are starting to harvest the dry beans.

Walnut harvest is starting with some of the earlier varieties like Howard and Tulare. Growers are hoping and praying that there is a stronger market for California walnuts this year. Quality of the 2019 crop looks good so far.

There are still a few melon fields getting harvested in the area. Harvest of most crops should finish up by the end of October as long as the weather cooperates with us.

By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County citrus grower

The 2018-19 citrus season was a painful one to say the least. Across the board, all varieties took a hit due to less than ideal fruit quality, small sizes, a higher than average yield and a shortage of export markets. Some folks that have been around longer than I are saying it is/was as bad as a freeze year. That is saying something.

On a more positive side, we have had a great water year and what felt like a very moderate summer for the SSJV. Trees are looking healthy, and the crop looks average to slightly above average. Fruit is sizing well and overall quality looks great. We will start ring picking lemons in mid-October. The lemon crop looks fantastic, with size and rind quality being right where we want it. Juice content looks good. Early navels are sizing well, and the moderate weather seems to be helping. We hope to start getting early navel varieties off in November and be able to continue into Washington's without a hitch.

This is an on year for table olives, which means there is a large crop. Size and weight are going to be key. We will be looking to start picking our olives the second week of October.

Our first planting of almonds is looking good. We will not shake for a couple of years, but our scaffolds and root systems have developed nicely. This is promising for developing our flowering wood for the years to come. We will be getting our second planting in the ground this November.

North Coast grape harvest is in full swing. It looks like another bountiful crop, which is maybe not what the premium-winegrape industry was needing. Quality looks great, which will hopefully bolster an industry currently on a negative slide.

Across the board there are market corrections taking place. Prices and demand have slid back. A resolution to the trade battle is imperative to keep our small farms upright. Let's hope we get back to business as usual.

On the SGMA front, high priority basin GSP's are out for public comment and the January 2020 deadline for submittal to DWR is right around the corner. This may be the calm before the next storm. Maybe there is a little continued momentum at the state and federal level to start addressing some of the water shortfalls.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

As I write this in early October, we've finished harvesting our first field and the yield was pretty good. It turned out to be a few sacks above our average, and I attribute that to our having been able to plant that field in early May. I've heard that growers up north have been having good yields too. They are usually able to plant even earlier than us, and I believe that often works out to be an advantage.

We haven't yet been able to continue into our next fields, as the grain moisture is still too high and the rain last weekend certainly didn't help. According to the calendar, our fields should be ready to go by now, since we were able to plant all of them by the middle of May. But those fields planted later experienced a pronounced cold spell right after we planted them, and they didn't grow at all for a week. So, it is as if we didn't plant those fields until late in May, which explains why they are not quite ready to harvest yet.

As I mentioned in an earlier report, the weeds grew just fine while the rice seeds sat there dormant in the cold water after planting. Weed control ended up as problematic as I feared, and we ended up having to spray an additional time, in July, after panicle initiation. That's risky, and I think that the extra herbicide application probably dinged our yields in those fields. But I felt that I had no choice, as the weeds were very thick and they certainly would have brought down the yields as well. Not to mention all the weed seed that would have been produced to come back and haunt us next year.

I expect that we will start up harvest again very soon, and hopefully finish up about 10 days to two weeks after that. I'm anxious to find out how the rest of our fields turn out—hopefully the late herbicide application was a lesser evil than all those weeds that were taking over.