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From the Fields® - September 21, 2011

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

It's hard to believe, but we're starting to wrap up the year. We had an exceptionally fat La NiƱa here on the South Coast, reaching a total of 34.5 inches of rainfall, which continued into the first week of June. This was great for water supplies, but a bit tough on the weed control. The summer stayed on the cool side, with no really hot days (yet) and no significant hot spells.

California's avocado crop was smaller than normal (if there ever is a normal) at 266 million pounds to date, with very little left to harvest, as compared to last year's 534 million. Prices reached levels that I have never seen before. It looks like return to grower may average about $1.50 per pound, against last year's 75 cents. For much of the summer harvest period, we were seeing quotes in the $1.90 and higher range. Those who had decent crops had lots of fun. And no, I don't feel guilty—we'll give it back next year, I expect. Here at the end of California's season, the market is in a bit of turmoil, as Mexico and Chile start to fight it out for market share, and are now competing with the recent entry of Peruvian avocados.

Over on the lemon side, we've picked three times. Things seem to be a little out of sync this year. Our biggest picks are usually in the April to June period, but each pick this year has built volume and I still have a good October crop coming up. Prices have been average or less. The next year or so will likely bring better prices, as a result of hard freezes in both the California-Arizona desert and Argentina. Operationally, lemon pruning and chopping is done, we're working on mulch application in both lemons and avocados, and we're still trying to get a handle on weed control.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We're in our seventh cutting of alfalfa. Because of the unseasonably cool spring and first part of summer in the low desert, we're down probably 25 percent on our yield. Supply continues to be uncharacteristically low. Seventy percent of our crop is made in the first four cuttings, and if you get unseasonably cool temperatures during the first three cuttings, you're never going to make up for that in the end.

There's lots of buyer reluctance for committed sales with these higher prices. Normally, when demand decreases, the price decreases. But because the supply is so historically low, I think even with a drop in demand, it still doesn't balance out to the supply that's available.

Premium retail alfalfa is going to be in extremely limited supply and there's always a strong demand for that, so it's going to be very difficult to get premium retail alfalfa this winter. It's all in limited supply, but the premium stuff is really limited.

We planted our cotton crop the first part of March. Unseasonably cool conditions in the first part of the cotton growing season really gave us a rather immature crop to battle against the high summer temperatures. Subsequently, it gave us a rather immature crop once we started to get to the heat of June. We had more fruit set than normal.

Right now, the crop is working on setting its top fruit. Because of cool spring and summer temperatures during the first 90 days of the growing period, the crop is probably going to be off by 15 percent to 20 percent. I expect to start our defoliation sometime around late October to mid-November. If we defoliate some of the cotton in late October, we probably will pick in mid-November.

By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

Summer strawberries are growing nicely and we'll probably start harvesting around the first of October. We'll probably start planting the winter strawberries around the first of October. So we have all that ground bedded up, fumigated and ready to go.

Celery has been planted and is being planted for the next six months. We'll start harvesting celery around the middle of November.

Red, yellow and green bell peppers are currently being harvested, as well as processing pimientos. Cilantro and spinach are growing and being harvested currently.

We're getting ready to move into the fall of the year. Things have a bright outlook and are going OK.

Weather-wise, we had that little hot spell here two weeks or so ago. It stressed some of the peppers a little bit, not bad. But we kept the irrigation on them and they're growing fine. The peppers look great. Right now, it's cooled off along the coast and that's allowing things to grow a little bit more slowly, which we like.

The big issues going forward are obviously having enough water. Hopefully, we will have a wet winter to replenish our underground aquifers. The regulatory environment is obviously in flux in this state, and we're trying to discern where that's going to end up. None of us seem to have a crystal ball or Ouija board to get us there.

By Luke Reimers, Glenn County diversified farmer

Our calving season is in full swing, with calves hitting the ground every day. We are feeding hay to the bred cows and all pairs are put on irrigated pasture. All of last year's calves have now been sold and the market remains very good, with premiums paid for age and source, natural and organic calves. This is the season of bull sales and the good cattle market has increased averages across all of the sales so far. It has been common to see good bulls ranging from $5,000 to $8,000.

The almond harvest is under way in our area, but growers have been in "hurry up and wait" scenarios, as many growers have seen a delay in the harvest due to a cool summer and lack of north wind. Yields appear to be good, but it is too early to tell if the state will reach USDA's Objective Measurement of 1.95 billion pounds. One of the main concerns with the late harvest is and will continue to be the risk of rain and its implications to the harvested crop.

Walnut harvest has been delayed too, with growers anxious to get the crop on the ground to avoid an early rain. It has been estimated that harvests across all crops are delayed two weeks or more due to the weather. Rice is no exception; everyone is waiting for the crop to mature, hoping that the favorable weather remains.

By Florence Cubiburu, San Joaquin County sheep rancher

We are just revving up for our lambing season. The ewes will begin to lamb, so it's a busy time for us. With alfalfa prices as high as they are, we will be having some difficulty getting onto some alfalfa fields to lamb on. We're going to try to do some alternative things, supplement the sheep on the islands where they are right now, or perhaps there'll be some possibility to get onto some sudan fields.

The weather is cooperating with us. It's beautiful weather. We're not having too much heat; that's stressful for the newborn lambs. It's always a positive time of year for us because we're just looking forward to going into our most active season.

Lambing season is different in all parts of the state, but for us, we lamb heavy in October and November, and then we taper down and continue to lamb until the spring. But our big lambing is in October and November. We're getting our fencing in line and getting the workers all geared up.

Typically as we go into this time of year, alfalfa farmers' yields are decreasing, but with the prices as high as they are, they're going to continue to go for more cuttings. You can't blame them. Even if their tonnage is down, the prices make up for it. Normally, we like to get our lambs on alfalfa, especially older fields of hay that aren't as productive for the farmer, by the first of November, but I don't foresee that happening this year.

Economically, even with lamb prices as good as they have been, it's cost prohibitive for us to buy a cutting from the alfalfa farmer. So we'll just supplement. There are not a lot of sudan fields around, but there are a few and we'll try to get our 20 ewes on those.

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