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From the Fields® - October 5, 2011

By Dennis Atkinson, Kern County diversified grower

We've finished harvesting our early winegrapes—both white and red. The season has been running late, late, late and we're waiting for the sugar to come up in our later variety winegrapes.

We've had every kind of condition this year: hot, cold, rain. We had 50 lightning-strike fires in our area, some pretty good-sized, but we finally got things under control.

The pistachio harvest went well. We're about two-thirds down with almonds. Nut meats tend to be on the small side, but the crop is good-sized.

I'm concerned about predictions for rain in the next week or two, because we've got almonds on the ground. And rain wouldn't be good for ripe winegrapes.

Once we have everything in, we'll clean up and put things away, get ready for next season.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

This summer brought its typical market ups and downs, but now fall is upon us. Westside Produce anticipates September and early October will be one of our stronger periods in terms of production. Gone are the longer days and more intense heat; conditions in which cantaloupes thrive, but fall varieties still ensure high brix and exceptional quality under the guise of a slight green cast.

The labor shortages that we experienced during the month of August appear to be behind us, so continuing to keep our employees happy and safe is our priority for the duration of the season.

With respect to the market, media scrutiny involving the recent recall of Colorado cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford growing region of Colorado has brought its share of questions and concerns from both retail buyers and consumers. We feel that it's important for California shippers to remind our customers and the buying public that California cantaloupes have never been associated with a recall or multi-state outbreak. More importantly, it places a spotlight on California cantaloupes and reinforces the priority we place on food safety and science-based growing and handling practices.

By John Amaro, Glenn County rice farmer

We spent the month of September preparing for harvest, preparing the machines, getting the last-minute touches on maintenance, draining fields. Our first fields were harvested around the first of October, which is about 10 days off of when we normally start. We normally start around the 15th to the 20th of September. With the late spring that we had and the cool first part of summer, it's put us back.

The crop looks good. It's going to be sporadic. The yields are going to be up and down, like last year. In this part of Glenn County, last year we had good yields with the same kind of spring in 2010 as in 2011. The crop in this area looks to be a pretty good one, even though we had an abnormal spring.

The crop has slowed down as far as ripening, with the cooler weather in September. We're anticipating the long-range forecast to be in the mid-80s to low 90s. That slows the ripening of the crop. It's not what we usually see. These last few weeks took a lot longer for the crop to ripen up before we got the harvesters out there.

We usually have about a two-and-a-half-week season. We'll probably be finishing harvest between the 18th and 20th of October. We usually do some custom cutting after we get ours done, and I anticipate helping out quite a few neighbors this year because of the late spring.

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County hay grower

I'm not doing too much at this time of year because I dry farm grain hay, mostly for the Southern California horse market. My crops come off in April, May and June. Right now, it's just me and one part-time worker on the farm.

We're doing a little bit of weed cleanup in the fields, getting ready for the rain and then we can start planting stuff. It looks like we may get rain this month, which is early, just like last year.

But, even with an early rain, it's not good to plant too early. If the grain comes up too early in the spring, it's likely to get hit by a late freeze, which can kill the heads.

We work counter to irrigated crops that grow in the summer. While farmers are harvesting in other parts of the state, this is our slack time. Our busy time is spring and summer.

I sold out all my hay in a couple of months this year and I had a pretty big crop. People flock to my hay because it's sweeter than irrigated hay and they want high quality hay for their horses.

My problem is that I can't grow enough hay to satisfy the market demand. But, when I look at the hay prices these days, I don't know how the dairy guys are doing it.

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County vegetable farmer

We're just finishing hand picking brussels sprouts and selling into a strong market. We begin picking in July when there's a limited supply and usually find the price is pretty high. This year, the supply from Mexico ended earlier than usual so there was a supply void for a little while and prices stayed high all summer.

We just started machine harvesting last week. Conditions are good right now—cool and overcast all summer and the plants are very tall—but the ground is dry.

Labor has been a little tight this year. We've been able to make it, but there have been fewer workers available this fall. It's not a crisis yet. We'll have to see how it goes as we move into the season and workers come over when the strawberries are finished.

Consumer demand is picking up and we hope to harvest through mid-January. After that, we take a few weeks off and wait for the ground to dry up.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

I don't want to be too negative, but this hasn't been a good year for me. The redwood market is off quite a bit from what it was last year, and that wasn't good. The Douglas fir market, while it's better because of the export market, it's still not where we want to see it.

There has been logging going on and quite a few guys are staying busy, but for me personally, I haven't cut any timber on my ranch this year. The price just hasn't been there.

But we do send logs to the export markets in the Pacific Rim. That has helped push up log prices, although it would be better if we had an export lumber mill and had the capacity to process the logs that we're not exporting. An export mill processes dimensional lumber using the metric system.

Our mills up here on the North Coast use English measure when processing logs. British Columbia and Washington state process for the export market, but we haven't been able to do that.

I've been doing some logging for other people. I have a little logging company and do falling and skidding, small forest jobs.

So far this year, it hasn't been a bad fire year and that's a blessing. The further we get into the fall, the lower the fire danger. But right now, the fire danger is very high—dry vegetation and low humidity.

What I'm looking forward to next year is a better economy and a better market.

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