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From the Fields® - June 15, 2011

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County

The year has seen an above normal and prolonged rain season with over 20 inches of rain for the seasonal total and cooler than normal average temperatures. The last storm in the first few days of June brought over an inch of rain to the region.

This wet weather created problems with trying to stay on our planting schedule throughout the winter and early spring and thus caused gaps in spring harvest. It also caused some problems with the crops that were planted including root rot, poor germination, small crop size and mildew.

On the bright side, the rain has helped to leach the salts in the soil that were built up over the years of drought. Also, short supplies have caused the market to spike for periods and if you were lucky enough to have adequate supplies, you could have more than made up for lower production.

We are currently planting for summer and early fall harvest. The cool temperatures have slowed maturation of crops about to be harvested, but the crops have looked good. Some fringe burn on romaine and leaf lettuce has shown up, probably due to the windy conditions that we've had as of late.

I expect prices to be somewhat volatile through early fall due to the sporadic plantings during the winter and their effects on the timing of second crops. This should bring more opportunities for produce growers.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery operator

The weather in San Diego is picture perfect—70-ish degree days and sunny. This spring wasn't always that way as unseasonably cold temperatures and cloudy weather delayed crops up to four weeks.

Those delays made meeting crop projections for our customers' ads a real challenge. Also, from a production standpoint, the few times that it did warm up resulted in thrips explosions. It is looking like it will be a bad year for them, unless you're a thrips, of course.

In the flower and plant segment of farming, the spring holidays are our biggest sales. With Easter and Mother's Day falling within two weeks of each other, it was even more hectic than usual. Secretary's Day jammed between the two holidays was never even acknowledged by our customers in the craziness.

Fortunately, sales were strong with good sell-through on the retail level. That occurrence may give the retailers confidence to place bookings for next year's holidays in advance—something that was fairly non-existent this year.

We also produce plants for general spring planting, shipping them across the country as it warms up from south to north. This year was strong in the Texas and southern markets due to their mild weather.

However, when the Midwest and northern part of the country should have started to rock and roll in late April and May, the late snows and rainy weekends postponed their spring season. It is yet to be seen if their season will extend beyond Memorial Day this year, the traditional end of their spring season.

By Steve Kafka, Calavaras County forester

In the central Sierras, we've had a very wet winter and spring. With a break in early January, we were able to get most of our low-elevation seedling planting done. But, we weren't able to get into the higher elevations at that time because of snow.

With some plowing, we were able to get in and finish these higher elevations in May. Late-season rains are great for the seedlings.

Given these late rains, however, the forest fuels have stayed wet. It doesn't look like there will be an opportunity this year to do much prescribed burning. Usually, there is a period where we can maintain our fuel breaks with prescribed fire. I'm afraid it is going to heat up and go straight into fire season.

As for logging season, we have been trying to get started, but these late rains have slowed production. It looks like we're beginning to dry out now, which will help in production.

Log prices are up a bit from the last couple of years, but lumber prices remain weak. The export market is currently the one bright spot for lumber sales.

The best news from our area is the opening of the retooled Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill in Sonora. The sawmill is accepting logs now, and is scheduled to be up and running in the next couple of weeks, initially on a one-shift basis, expanding to two shifts later this summer.

Having this sawmill in operation is not only great news for our local timber operators, it also provides a market for local timber owners who actively manage their own lands to maintain their forests in a healthy condition. They need a facility to sell their product to for processing.

By David Schwaubauer, Ventura County avocado grower

With the cool weather this spring, the pests are emerging behind schedule. We'll be spraying for thrips by air next week, because we have to stay ahead of the threat.

The avocado crop is light this year, but the size is good. With so little fruit this year, after last year's bumper crop, the trees are putting all their energy into a smaller crop. The fruit size is beautiful and prices to growers are good.

But, I worry about the crop going into the market at higher prices because consumers are watching their food dollars and stretching them as far as they can. I worry about the negative implications of offering consumers a high-priced commodity in today's economy.

We're hoping for a good fruit set on the trees for next year and we want to be on top of pest issues to help insure a good future crop. We're not irrigating this week because of all the recent rains.

In all my life, I've never seen such a light irrigation schedule. The rains have been tremendously beneficial.

Another good benefit of the rains is the impact on the lemon crop. The fruit is large and since we're paid by the box, it takes less fruit to fill more boxes.

Added to that is the hot weather being experienced back East. When it gets hot, we sell more lemons for iced tea and lemonade.

Labor has not been a big issue for us this year, but part of the reason is that we have a smaller avocado crop, which means less demand for picking crews. The continued sluggishness in the construction sector also means workers aren't being drawn away from agriculture.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County fruit grower

Like much of California, we have experienced a spring and early summer like many of us have never seen.

Consistently lower tempertatures and the constant threat of rain has made for a double-edge cherry harvest. Most of the early cherries were harvested and had great size and firmness to go along with a good marketplace. Much of the later part of harvest, however, has gone unpicked due to rain cracking. Cherries that survived the rain and were harvested were the beneficaries of a very consistent marketplace.

Other stone fruits (peaches and apricots) seem to be as much as two weeks behind last year, but crop loads are respectable and size would not seem to be a problem at this time.

There looks to be a full gala apple crop, but like many other crops it will be at least a week behind normal. The crop at this point, however, looks to be clean and the fruit is sizing adequately.

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