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From the Fields® - July 6, 2011

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

We just got a rain shower in late June, which is very surprising. But what are you going to do other than deal with it? We are very busy right now with irrigating and trying to fertilize and maintain our sprays for insects and weed prevention during the summer months.

Overall, I think the walnut crop looks really, really strong. Last year was the largest walnut crop that California has ever seen. I'm not going to say this year is larger, but it looks very, very good. To have two great crops back to back is very promising. The walnut market is very strong right now and as a grower, what more can you ask for—good yields and a good, strong price.

Now let's just hope we don't have overly high temperatures and a bunch of sunburn on the walnuts or have huge insect problems. But all of that looks very good right now and it has been a pretty good year to this point.

The crop is behind, like most crops are in California. The cooler spring temperatures have delayed us some, and that is a concern for harvest of walnuts because we usually run into November and it can start getting wet and rainy.

That's not something we can really control, so we are going to go with it and do what we can do. I do expect it to be behind, but we are going to deal with it and somehow, some way make the harvest come in.

Mother Nature was generous and there are no water complaints anywhere. Everyone has the water they need. Shasta Dam is almost full. Oroville Dam is full and everything is looking promising right now for agriculture as a whole. The prices for commodities all around are up and the yields look good. I'm sure we will have our challenges in the future, but right now it is pretty nice.

By Michael Young, Kern County diversified grower

We finally have some heat to help push along our crops. Tomatoes and peppers are probably seven to 10 days behind, but progressing nicely.

The almond crop looks good, but is a little behind as well. I am not sure if it is a 1.6 billion-pound crop, but it looks better than it did around bloom.

As crops progress and become ready for harvest, we hope to have a solid labor force around to help us out. This E-Verify thing is scary and I encourage everyone to get involved and make sure agriculture has a voice on the issue.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Once again it is amazing to me how time can fly by. Seems like yesterday we were trying to get rid of the floodwaters that covered the ranch in March. With all the rains this late winter and early spring, we're grateful here in the Colusa Basin to have bested last year's late planting dates, albeit not by much.

Our rice crop, mostly all medium-maturity Calrose, looks pretty good now that the daytime temperatures are in the high 60s and low 70s, and nights in the 40s have given way to warmer weather. It can be a little confounding deciding whether you're better off with some water on the fields or water off when faced with those extremes.

As rice weed pests tend to be more active in low temperatures than rice, we're seeing more weed pressure early and have begun spraying by ground to control sedges, roughseed bulrush, broadleaf weeds and watergrass.

Looking down the calendar a ways, I can see we have some catching up to do, as those weeks of cold and cloudy weather had the rice in the survival mode, with not a lot of plant growth and tillering happening. Having said that, changing weather patterns in recent growing seasons have demonstrated just how resilient and productive our new medium-grain varieties can be. Chances are come fall, we'll be bringing in another good rice crop. Then it falls to our marketing organizations to get the 2011 rice crop profitably sold. With word on the street that we'll be competing with our rice-growing counterparts Down Under for some of the export business again, looks like the marketers will have their challenges as well. I have every confidence that they are up to the task.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

We are in the middle of our first irrigation on our cotton. The below-normal temperatures in May set the crop back, but it is coming along nicely now and looks just fine. Fortunately, we did not have to do any replanting of cotton. We do have a Race 4 fusarium wilt in some fields in Tulare County, but it is spotty.

Generally speaking, all of our crops look good. Our double-cropped corn and our blackeyes are in, and wheat for grain silage is under way.

The most important thing is that we have lots of surface water and we will have it all summer long. With the below-normal May, the water stayed up in the snowpack and as a result, all of the local districts will have water and there will be a very minimal amount of groundwater use this summer. The quickest way to recharge the underground water supply is to not pump it in the first place.

Commodity prices are all good. Dairy prices have rebounded quite well. The feed costs are higher, but most of the better dairy producers are in a profitable situation right now. All of the feeds we sell to dairies bring a good price.

The pistachio crop looks light. It is disappointing but that is the nature of pistachios: If you don't get the crop this year, you will get it next year. Looking at what is on the trees, the only unknown is how many are blanks and how many are not. Just generally speaking, I've heard that pistachio growers in other areas have decent crops, but here in Tulare County it is an off year.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We have just finished bloom, which means we have about 90 days from bloom to harvest. Doing the simple math, it looks like we are going to be harvesting about two to three weeks later than average, probably about the middle of September.

But, if we do have a cool to moderate summer where we don't get the real hot days, it could expedite the ripening of the grapes. As long as it doesn't get over 95 degrees and the grapes go into respiration mode, which stops the ripening of the fruit, we could do a lot of catching up fairly quickly.

Because of the excess moisture up here in the Shenandoah Valley—we have had over 56 inches of rain and our average is 34 to 35 inches of rain—we are quite a bit above normal. What we are doing is leaving the grass tall so that way we have evaporation and also evapotranspiration to suck the excess water out of the soil.

We are removing a lot of excess vegetation through crown thinning and suckering, so it opens up the vines to get more air flow and the sun gets down to those grapes to start the ripening process.

But it is not all bad news out there. The good news is that we did a lot of replants this year and some budding on St. George vines and it looks like we had a 99 percent take on those. The price of good quality winegrapes is up this year, in particular for zinfandel in the Sierra foothills. Here's a toast to the 2011 California winegrape crop.

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