Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube

From the Fields® - August 17, 2011

By Orin Johnson, Stanislaus County beekeeper

In the San Joaquin Valley, bees are coming out of alfalfa seed pollination. Other bees are in or going into melons, cucumbers and pumpkin contracts.

Honey production around the valley this spring and summer has been a big disappointment. With only a month to go in our honey season, it appears that most honey crops will be low. Fortunately, honey prices have remained high. Nationally, honey production is spotty and appears to be down overall.

Removing extra supers and starting varroa mite treatments are coming up quickly in preparing the bees for fall.

Like last year, grasshoppers are in the eastern foothills of Mariposa County and are devouring everything green. This includes blue curl and tarweed, two of the fall plants beekeepers depend on for fall buildup.

By Tyler Nelson, Mendocino County winegrape grower

The cold weather so far this year has both the pears and grapes off to a late start. We are expecting the pears to be about three weeks later than usual and grapes will probably follow suit.

The pear crop looks big this year, and everyone is holding their breath waiting to see if fruit will size.

The chardonnay and zinfindel crops are looking like they are going to be light this year. Cabernet and merlot crops are looking average.

Grape sales are significantly better than they have been in years. Wineries are out kicking tires and making deals. The light chardonnay crop should help stimulate sales that have been very soft over the last several years. While growers won't be able to retire after this year, grape prices are moving to a more sustainable level.

My thanks go out to all the folks checking traps for the European grapevine moth. In Mendocino County alone, there are 2,141 traps that are checked every two weeks. It is a monumental task that seems to be working. With a lot of hard work and cooperation from growers and wineries, four counties may be taken out of quarantine this year.

By Benny Jefferson, Monterey County vegetable grower

It's really fast-paced around here now. Everybody is trying to get the last of their fall and winter plantings in. Right now, the vegetable market price to the farm is down. It's not very forgiving right now on everything across the board.

They say prices to consumers are up because of transportation costs, but it's not because there's an undersupply. Instead, some of the vegetable crops are being held a bit longer. But there's a horrendous mildew problem in the lettuce crops because of the wet spring and cool summer.

Out here in Castroville, I don't think I've seen the sun for four or five days. It has been drizzling and then the sun comes out, which makes the mildew that much more prevalent. Hot and cold: that makes it harder to harvest a clean, high quality product.

Right now, we're just harvesting the best products we have and shipping them. The public has an appetite for high quality produce for which they want to pay very little. It's been like that for as long as I can remember.

The economy has an impact on the slump in consumer demand and increasing prices reflect rising transportation costs.

But it's getting to be the time of year when families settle in and school starts up and everyone eats more meals at home. We expect demand for fresh produce will increase in coming weeks.

By Craig Pedersen, Kings County diversified farmer

It has been a memorable year to this point. Other than the late spring that caused extensive planting delays and some germination issues, I can't remember a better scenario than this year at this point. From flood release water through July 15—no pumps needed, so no diesel or electricity costs—to very managable pest pressure, to all-time high commodity prices for my operation that consists of cotton, alfalfa, corn and walnuts, things look good right now (famous last words).

We have just applied last irrigations on corn for grain and continue to make good quality hay. Walnuts seem to have liked the cool spring weather and are progressing nicely. The big question will be for the cotton crop, as it is about 10 to 15 days behind normal maturity rates. So cotton growers are hopeful for a late fall this year to make the crop.

By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

While the market to purchase winegrapes strengthened this year, it has been a very difficult year to grow winegrapes on the Central Coast. There was a catastrophic frost event that severely damaged an already light yielding crop.

More recently, conditions were set up for the worst mildew pressure year I have ever seen. Winegrape growers have certainly been kept on their toes this year and have been well served to monitor their vines closely. If you had any Central Coast pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon this year to sell, you had your pick of who to sell to.

By Steve Arnold, San Luis Obispo County diversified farmer

It's amazing how much better I am as a rancher and farmer when Mother Nature is on my side. We ranch just east of the Coast Range, which separates the coast from inland San Luis Obispo County, in a community that all Cal Poly attendees know.

Pozo had just over 35 inches of rain this year, compared to our average of around 22 inches.

We produce cattle, winegrapes and dryland oat hay. It has been an incredible year for the cattle market.

Even if one missed the very high prices at the beginning of sale time, the middle was better than any market I've ever seen. There are ranchers in our area, and throughout the state, who received more than $1,000 a head for their calves.

We've had several tough years in the grape business, with deflated prices and little interest from buyers, but that is beginning to turn. We were fortunate enough to avoid the April freeze that affected so many growers here, but we caught some damage May 31 on grapes along the waterway. All and all, we were very fortunate with little frost damage.

Our dryland hay didn't fare as well with all the untimely rain. We had several hundred tons down when we received the late May rain. The hay is still good for feed, but cosmetically it demands No. 2 prices for the color, and that's costly.

As we enter the end of summer, we're moving cows through the hay stubble, cleaning up the leftovers in preparation of disking. We rotate on a three-year cycle on our hay, with two planted years and one fallowed.

The grapes are ripening on a fairly close to normal schedule and the berries are just beginning to turn color. Our biggest chore this time of year is getting ready for grape harvest. We'll ready the mechanical harvester by the middle of September.

Our biggest headaches are the birds and the critters. Since we are the only game in our little community, and everything likes grapes, we share with the bigger animals, bears mostly, and make every attempt to keep the birds and squirrels at bay. That means 60 to 70 days of intense vigil.

Special Reports



Special Issues

Special Sections