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From the Fields® - June 6, 2012

By April England-Mackie, Monterey County vegetable grower

We're working on just about everything right now—artichokes, lettuces, broccoli and cauliflower—harvesting, packing and shipping. It's the peak of the growing season and from a food safety perspective, growers are working to complete third-party audits.

Since we employ our workers year-round, we don't have a labor issue. Most of our workers have been with us generation after generation. Adequate manpower isn't a big concern for us.

Water quality issues are big right now. We're trying to work with regulators on what the next steps are so we'll be in compliance. The regional water board was down here last week and did a workshop for growers about timelines and deadlines for complying with the new rules for irrigation discharge.

But it's confusing. There are lawsuits and stays and other complications that we haven't heard about yet. People are apprehensive about investing money and time in farming and compliance activities.

Although most farmers in the Salinas Valley already comply, what's not clear is what the added paperwork and testing requirements will be. The problem is that in some cases there aren't any answers yet on how to comply.

With so many unknowns, it's hard for everyone.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County orchardist

Our cherry crop was a little disappointing this year. We had some blocks of pretty light crops. The quality was good, weather was perfect and market was great, but we just didn't have enough cherries to really pick. So it was kind of frustrating.

The apple crop looks fairly good, but it is still very early. We finished thinning a couple weeks ago and the fruit is really starting to size. We've had such nice, mild weather that the trees are in great shape and the crop at this point looks great. Fruit counts have the crop coming in as probably one of the better years that we've seen, so we are cautiously optimistic. There is still a lot that can happen between now and Aug. 1, when we anticipate starting our Gala harvest. All in all, it has the potential to be a really nice crop.

Our apple deal is Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith and Pink Lady. So we have most of the major California varieties. The early indications are that the Gala prices should be pretty strong. It looks like there should be a pretty decent demand and the Northwest deal should be cleaned up for the most part.

The labor supply is always a concern. We managed to get through cherry harvest. We were fairly early and we managed to get through that. Obviously once apples start, we are competing with a lot of other commodities who are looking for labor as well, so that is certainly a thing that we are all taking into consideration.

We didn't have a lot of rain over the winter, but I think we will be fine this year with water supply. In terms of pests, you never know what will pop up, but as of now everything looks clean and we are anticipating not a lot of problems there.

By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County winegrape farmer

After all the hype and worry about a drought year, we did get some muchneeded rain this summer. We could have used more, but were happy with at least what we got.

It finally feels good to be a winegrape grower again. The glut of the past few years has certainly whiplashed to a shortage of supply in the wine industry in a very short period. For the first part of the year, we've seen some very healthy prices on both bulk wine and from wineries looking for long-term grape contracts. However, at this point, the markets have cooled off as everyone is waiting to see what we will get for set.

No one is willing to go on record yet as to what the 2012 yield will bring, but no one wants the disastrous short crop we got in 2011. So far weather seems to be cooperating, but there is still a long road to go.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County diversified farmer

We have a normal-sized cherry crop this year and the fruit looks very good. The season has been somewhat erratic though, probably due to the rain and cool weather during bloom. Some trees are "roped," some are light and some are just right. The cherries are very large, due to the weather, and there are very few spurs or doubles.

The big challenge with cherries will be availability of labor, and we won't know the answer to that until harvest is over. Labor costs look higher than last year.

We are shoot thinning and suckering our winegrape crop right now, and the crop looks normal. We are also spraying to control mildew and botrytis, and fertilizing with sulfate of potash. We will follow later with nitrogen.

We were seven to 10 days behind at budbreak, but now we are a little ahead of normal. I observed some new vineyards being planted in this area. As with the cherries, there is concern about a potential labor shortage.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified grower

We're in the middle of our cantaloupe and corn harvest, as well as our honeydew. It has been an exceptionally hot May, and this has pushed our fruit and corn forward an average of five days ahead of schedule.

That means we're averaging 5 to 10 percent greater volume than what we budgeted for. It means we need more labor, equipment, trucks and fuel. We usually produce about 20,000 cartons a day and right now we're shipping between 25,000 and 30,000 cartons a day.

Our input costs will remain about the same, although I might end up using one less irrigation, which saves a little money. It's just that things are happening sooner and faster this year.

Market prices are different every year and this year yields and acreage among all producers are down slightly, which means a little less product available for the market. This year, we're finding what we'd call good pricing. It's all about supply and demand.

Our water supply is adequate at this point and we're making adjustments. The Quantification Settlement Agreement and water transfer to San Diego is a moving target. Adequacy is the result of what crops are planted, temperatures, rainfall. But our supply has been fine.

With the season ending here, we move into the San Joaquin Valley. It appears that the San Joaquin Valley temperatures have been about average. Since we will finish early in Imperial, we foresee a bit of a supply gap before our San Joaquin Valley melon crops are ready for harvest.

We feel fortunate this year. It's always one crop year at a time, but this has been a good year for us. Alfalfa, Sudan grass, melon and corn prices have all been very positive.

By Burt Bundy, Tehama County aquaculture producer

Sales for our catfish operation are picking up. It's time for summer deliveries. We work with the recreation market to help stock lakes for sport fishing. With the warm weather, lakes are moving from trout to catfish, which is our specialty.

The fish have been feeding well and they look pretty good. The price is holding up and we're starting to spawn young ones. We'll be working things out in the holding tanks for both fish crops. Things are getting busy in the catfish business.

Feed prices are high, which has to do with production and transportation costs. That part is tough because our feed comes from a long distance. We buy bulk and our main suppliers are out of Salt Lake City or Los Angeles. Either way, it's a long haul to Northern California.

In the past couple of years, sales to lakes for stocking have been down because of the economy; not as many people have been out doing recreational fishing.

But we harvested today and that load will go to Oroville for a Kiwanis Club special-needs kids fishout. And we've been stocking lakes for East Bay Municipal Utilities District lakes and parks in the Bay Area.

The live fish markets in the Bay Area have been holding up, too. So it's been good.

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