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From the Fields® - August 3, 2011

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Normally in Lodi to determine whether harvest is going to be late or early, we look at our zinfandel to start showing some color around July 4. That didn't happen this year until about July 20, so we are running more than two weeks behind a normal pace for harvest this year.

I am anticipating that we will be starting the early varieties two to two and half weeks later than normal, but the later varieties are very light in terms of tonnage and I think they have a good shot at catching up to finish harvest on a normal timeframe.

In the past few weeks, we have had very nice grape-growing weather. We like mid-90s for ripening grapes and we have been getting that. We'll take it, because on the 13 weather stations that we have in the Lodi district, all of them are behind in terms of degree days from where we were last year. And last year was just a weird, cold year, so we are even behind that. If we can stay in the mid-90s, that will help to catch us up.

Mildew is popping up in isolated circumstances. For the first time ever, I will be applying sulfur in August on some of the vineyards. And other than for rain events, I have never sulfured in August in my life.

By Chuck Nichols, Kings County diversified farmer

July is a busy time of year in Tulare and Kings counties. Irrigation is at its peak, and this year we've been blessed with an extraordinary water year.

We've just completed almond hullsplit sprays and continue to irrigate and fertigate almonds. The crop is breaking limbs, nut sizes are pretty small, and the crop is later in maturity than last year's late maturing almond crop.

Pistachios are being irrigated and fertigated, and we're near the end of fungicide applications. Kernels began filling about July 5 and the crop is late in maturing. Nut sizes are quite large and most estimates of the state crop are 400 million to 450 million pounds. Prices for almonds are good; prices for pistachios are the highest in history.

Grain corn, silage corn and blackeyes are all maturing and being irrigated. Prices for corn and blackeyes are at or near historic highs. Despite increases in costs, it is expected to be a good year for farmers in our area.

By Kathye Rietkerk, San Bernardino County greenhouse grower

While the nursery sector has seen more major growers and wholesalers file bankruptcy or leave the business, this spring our segment of the horticulture market showed a slight uptick over last year. Demand has been steady and our crop mix was well received.

In keeping with being flexible and adapting to consumer trends, we have added vegetable garden patio pots to our product line, which have been well received. We have expanded the foliage plant product lines to reach out to a more diverse ethnic customer base, which has also been a growth area.

Our customers are already asking about our poinsettias, which last year got good marks for lasting well, having been grown in the warmer, drier Inland Empire and so were better adapted to stay pretty longer and make a lovely show.

We have expanded poinsettia production for the holidays to meet this increasing demand. So, crops are coming in looking good as we head through summer and into fall, which generally slows down after the stronger spring sales.

We are hoping the "new normal" continues to yield a stable, sustainable pattern for the remainder of the year.

By Stan Lester, Yolo County diversified farmer

Weather-wise, it was a relatively cool July. We have had some warm spells, but also a stretch of cooler days that were a bit unusual for July. I think the crops are so far enjoying a relatively stress-free summer.

Crop-wise, it looks like it could be an up and down year. The cherries set a beautiful crop with excellent quality until the rains came. With each rainstorm the cracking got worse and worse.

The apricot crop set light to begin with because of all the rain at bloom. Then we had more rainshowers as the crop ripened, which affected the Royal Blenheim more than the Patterson variety of apricots. It sure is a good thing that a tiny fraction of our financial livelihood is dependent on apricots and cherries.

The local prune crops look good. The majority of growers have thinned their crop and are wondering if they took enough off to have good sized fruit to harvest. Because of the weather, there is concern about leaf rust and brown rot at harvest.

The walnut crop locally looks good. The trees are enjoying and responding well to the weather. We growers had to spend a lot of money protecting the crop with blight sprays earlier in the year, but the crop and trees look good. We are now monitoring our orchards for codling moth and husk fly, both of which can cause nut damage. Husk fly catches are now appearing.

Market-wise, there seems to be very little carryover from last year's crop and the demand seems to be good. There are buyers in the field, both foreign and domestic, that are approaching growers and small handlers inquiring about the coming crop and wanting to buy new crop walnuts.

Because of our cool spring, every grower of every crop is concerned as to when the crops will mature to harvest. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate the rest of the year and growers will be able to harvest in a timely fashion with good quality. Let's hope and pray for an open fall and late start of winter.

By Philip Bowles, Merced County diversified farmer

Another tough spring set us back on our heels a little. Some fields planned for cotton ended up in melons or sudan. The wheat was late ripening, so any chance of a double crop behind harvest is gone. Tomatoes look good, but the cotton is a little late, and we've had some spots of race 4 fusarium, which is scary.

The cotton price has come down, which is good, because I can stop kicking myself for selling 50 cents too soon. The alfalfa has looked good all year, and the price is incredible. Fortunately, the milk price is also way up (which is why the hay price is, too).

Insects have been behaving themselves, and everybody has a little more breathing room with the water supply. Diesel is way up, but at least we have the crop prices to pay for it.

I feel sorry for anyone who cannot feel gratitude in any kind of farming year. But they'd better call a doctor if 2011 does not make them grateful, no matter how the season finishes out.

By Dennis Atkinson, Kern County diversified farmer

Everything is late by as much as two weeks around here. Almonds, pistachios and winegrapes are all behind. The problem with being late is that it pushes the harvest into the fall, which increases the chance of rain. That's always a concern at harvest time.

With the grapes, the berries seem to be small and aren't sizing well. Sugars are behind. Pistachios are starting to fill inside the shell. It's hard to tell what that means for crop quality and yield at this point.

We're seeing a slightly tighter labor situation compared to last year, but so far we've been able to get enough people to do the work that's needed. Fortunately, we've got plenty of water.

With the start of harvest more than a month away, we're just watering and checking for bugs. And, prices look pretty good. We're happy about that.

The shop is pretty busy right now getting the equipment ready for harvest, but it's a hurry-up-and-wait situation, since our crops are coming along slowly. While we're waiting, we're looking at the possibility of planting some additional acreage next year and talking about what varieties we might consider. But next year is a long way off. We're really focused on what's going on right now.

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