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From the Fields® - October 27, 2010

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

As with other commodities, our olives seem to be a couple of weeks behind in ripening. Normally this time of year we would see some coloring on the olives. We finally have a decent crop this year, so harvest will be a little more enjoyable with less worry about having enough olive oil to get through the year.

Last year as an industry only around 24,000 tons were harvested, but predictions are this year will reach over 100,000 tons. Fortunately for growers, even with the increased supply, prices remain steady with last year. Although, with the cooler summer weather and a larger crop, getting the olives to size at the premium per ton price is a struggle. While table olive processors had finished receiving olives by the end of October last year, they are planning on receiving until Thanksgiving this year. Based on table olive prices, olives for the oil market should maintain a good price as well.

This last week we saw our first day of fall weather, meaning rain, but temperatures have remained steady in the high 70s to 80s. Typically in October we get our first measurable rainfall. Hopefully we can roll up the irrigation lines. The 80-degree days are coming to an end as daytime highs will now fall into the 60-degree range with lows in the 40s. That will help speed up the ripening of the olives.

By Philip Bowles, Merced County diversified grower

This year has continued to surprise. Fortunately, the surprises have largely been good ones. April was full of lousy weather; hay customers are still bleeding cash, and there are tough growing conditions for tomatoes and cotton. The tomato crop turned out to be good, the improved economics of the dairy industry have lifted alfalfa prices, and the cotton price has gone through the roof. We’re just getting started on the cotton, which is late and at more danger of rain than I’d like, but both the price and the appearance of the crop are certainly better than I had a right to expect in the spring.

Next year’s demand for our crops look pretty decent, too. Of course, water, the regulatory environment and the path of the world economy (which is far more important to California growers than it is to most) are major “known unknowns.” But I would have been satisfied to get through this year with my head still on my shoulders, and now it looks like I will make enough to shop for a hat.

By Jim Durst, Yolo County vegetable grower

With the first few drops of fall rain and the settling of the dust, we are finally finishing up the last of our fresh market tomato harvest. Now comes the task of cutting all the twine and removing the stakes from our tomato fields.

We are busy preparing next year’s crop ground, doing soil tests, adding fall amendments, installing drip tape, and preparing to plant cover crops. We like to have our cover crops planted by mid-November, after the first rains, to take advantage of soil moisture and get some initial growth prior to cold setting in.

We planted some fall asparagus this month and we will need to get into the field to do some cultivating sometime in the next week if weather permits.

We have all of our winter squash harvested except for some processing butternut that we will leave in the field and pick to order.

Overall, this has been a good season. Quality and yields were excellent, and even though the harvest season began a little late, we were able to meet target prices for most crops. I don’t know if we should anticipate next year’s weather being the same or if we will be in different weather mode. Such is farming.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We are trying to wrap up what has been a long and very frustrating harvest. Weather-wise, it has been a very cool summer and what we found is that here in the Lodi area we are about 30 percent below our degree-day counts. This is a huge disparity, which makes for a late harvest, No. 1, and a light crop, No. 2.

Now we are trying to beat the rains to get the last few fields harvested. We got our rot-vulnerable varieties off just before the last rains and those have been in the barn and look good. We continue to work around the clock to get the rest of our grapes in. Bottlenecks at the wineries are the only thing that is slowing us up right now.

The quality of the grapes is just phenomenal. Some of our fields are producing the best quality grapes that I have ever seen. That is also due to the cool weather. We did have a heat spell when we went from 85 degrees to 108 degrees in a matter of two days, and that really knocked back some of the weaker vines. The damage showed up in the fruit right away and we lost quite a bit of weight in some of the vineyards due to that heat spell.

And now I’m looking forward to next year already. A few days left and then it is time for a little bit of a break.

By Steve Kafka, Calaveras County forester

We’re just finishing up our logging season. Harvest has been steady. Markets are down, but we’ve been able to keep operating. We’re finishing up a couple of sales and have had issues with hauling because of storms. The roads have been muddy, but as things have dried out, we’re able to continue.

And, we’ve started fall tree planting. Some of the units have only been cut for a few weeks, which means a short turnaround between harvest and replanting.

The biggest excitement for us is the rebuilding of the Standard Sawmill in Sonora. Right now, we’re hauling logs to Lincoln in Placerville. Having the facility in operation again will cut down on transportation costs and time.

We’re looking forward to finishing out a decent season. We’ve got storms coming in even though they’re early. We usually count on logging through the early part of November but that may not happen this year.

By Kathye Rietkerk, San Bernardino County nursery operator

The market is soft for house plants, but being in diverse markets is helping us keep our business steady. We don’t just sell to big boxes or grocery chains, we sell to every wholesale buyer we can.

Spring and summer sales were up and down, fall sales are sliding a bit. What consumers should know is that there are great products in the market, really outstanding material. We’re making sure our products are of the highest quality so that when retailers do think about buying, they come to us.

Adjusting our plant inventory to meet fluctuating consumer demand has been very difficult. It takes six to 18 months to grow plants to market size. With such a long lead time, it’s difficult to gauge where demand will be.

These days, buyers aren’t willing to take risks on new types of plants. They want the tried and true products that are reliable sellers.

Since people don’t buy houseplants during the holidays, we’ve started growing poinsettias for our retail customers. That’s working out quite well because the poinsettias grown in the Inland Empire are heartier and make the transition to market more easily than those grown on the coast.

That’s one way we’re shifting our production to address economic conditions. And we’re gearing up for next season’s shipping, which runs from January to Mother’s Day.

The only capital improvement projects we’ve been doing around the nursery is installing more drip irrigation equipment.

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