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From the Fields® - January 18, 2012

By Pat Borrelli, Madera County diversified grower

All our cotton ground work is done and we planted alfalfa through the end of December. We had to irrigate our wheat hay early.

Right now our irrigation district is filling canals with water. It'll be the end of the week before we can get deliveries. I'm trying to sit tight, hoping the weather will change.

We're going to plant cannery tomatoes this year. That will be a venture into a new deal. Processors cut way back on green bean acres last year and we still don't know what's going to happen this year.

In our area, we've got a couple of major tomato processing facilities nearby and that makes it easy to deliver.

Everything is at a standstill at the moment. I really hate the thought of irrigating this early, but in the back of my mind, I'm gearing up for it. We'll have to see how things go.

The cold has set the crops back and the air has been dry, too.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified grower

From a weather perspective, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we experienced consistently cold temperatures. All the early vegetables were affected. We had minimal growth in everything—alfalfa, vegetables—it almost stopped.

Vegetable prices reflected the limited supplies. We saw very strong prices. Then right about Christmas, the weather turned and temperatures have been above average for the past couple of weeks. Things are growing more normally and I'm encouraged by the quality I see in the fields.

We've got lots of sunshine.

The prices have really changed. After the holiday buying stopped, virtually all vegetable prices took a downward turn. Weather in the East has taken the edge off of consumer demand and we're seeing a lull in pricing.

Insect pressure has been minimal this year. Quality is what we'd expect, with the exception of very minor frost damage on the leafy greens. It's not severe.

In coming weeks, we hope weather throughout the country improves, which will help support better demand and get us back into balance. That should help with upward movement on FOB prices.

In general, crop production in Imperial, Yuma, Blythe and Coachella valleys is steady, without too much change in crop mix by the shippers. Early corn struggled a little coming out of the ground, but now we're seeing improved stands and early melons are just going in. Market onions look good.

We're in a nice run right now.

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

We've got a very good avocado crop set. Mexico and Chile are fighting it out for market share right now and it's too early for California fruit.

We'll do a little harvesting in February and March as a byproduct of pruning and tree shaping. Everyone is worried about labor and my approach is going to be picking with small crews, probably in late May, and then stay on it. It might take me three months to complete harvest.

The lemon crop looks good. We're anticipating a decent year and good prices. The desert was hurt by a freeze and that has increased prices due to more limited supplies.

At the moment there's nothing unusual about pest pressure, but I despise irrigating in winter. It takes me away from chores that need to be completed at this time of year. And it's a grind to continually manage irrigations.

I've been looking at the weather forecasts and just don't see much chance of rain as far out as the weather reports go. Irrigating costs money for electricity and equipment. We're fortunate that most of our water comes from our own wells, but if we're facing a real drought, supply will become problematic down the line.

I'm looking forward to a lull in our daily activities so I can step back and look at the big picture. So far this year I haven't had a chance to do that.

By Pete Belluomini, Kern County diversified grower

We're busy planting our spring potato crop and harvesting our fall crop, which is our main business. But we've got carrots, onions and some other things that are in different stages of development. We've got a lot going on at this time of year.

The issue we're dealing with now is lack of rain. It has been dry, no fog and lots of frost. I don't think we've had any rain for about 70 days. Lack of rain has been compounded by lack of moisture in the air.

Another element of concern is cold weather. Although we haven't had pipe-breaking severe cold, the month of December saw every morning starting out at 28 degrees to 30 degrees. That zaps moisture out of the soil, too.

With my potato plantings, I've been putting the plants in and then giving them a shot of water to get them going. It's been 10 years since I've had to start a crop that way.

This early in the season, water availability isn't an issue. We're using some district water and some well water and we're OK for now.

But, the fact that we're irrigating right now, when we don't ordinarily think about it until February, is unique. Usually our potato crop finds its way out of the ground without us even having to think about it at this time of year.

Our crops aren't labor intensive so getting enough workers hasn't been an issue. We are excited about our certified organics program, which has been steady in terms of prices and demand. Now we're looking at adding peppers and other vegetable crops to utilize the ground during rotations, which tend to be longer with organic production.

But the organic market is fragile. It only takes a few acres of a commodity to tip the canoe in terms of supply and demand. For farmers established in a program, it's a pretty reliable business.

We just purchased an existing cold storage facility to increase our capacity and closed escrow a few days ago. It was exciting the day we closed. The next day your job just got bigger.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We've finished our annual alfalfa harvest and find we're about 7 percent off our historic yields. But price has made up for any loss in yield. We came out OK.

Right now sheep are grazing a lot of our alfalfa ground to harvest as the crop overwinters. We get a lot of frost damage and the grazing helps remove it. If there's need for a winter herbicide application, the grazing helps with the effectiveness of the application.

We've just finished our first pick of the cotton crop and expect to go back in the next couple of weeks and second pick what we can. That usually yields anywhere from a quarter to a half bale that otherwise would have been left in the field, although the quality and price isn't as good as first pick.

In the past 11 of 16 days, cotton prices have closed up. It's trading at 96.48 cents a pound. A few weeks ago prices were down to the 87-cent range. Commodity prices have been volatile, but looking out, futures prices are strong.

I'm booking cotton long for December 2012 and 2013 at these prices. I'm saying I'll sell some bales in the futures market at set prices higher than what we're seeing right now. Hedging is risky, but I've been right about the prices better than half the time. If you bat better than .500 in baseball, you're phenomenal. I'm OK with the results we've achieved through hedging and I'm willing to commit.

This year, we've got some three-way, oat-barley-wheat forage for the horse market. All three of the grains are mixed and germinate together. It's becoming more popular due to higher alfalfa prices. We'll probably harvest and bale sometime in April.

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