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From the Fields® - July 11, 2012

By Bob Steinacher, Tehama County orchardist

We are just going through and preparing for harvest in the figs. We had frost in early April that knocked off our first crop and now we are basically going in for our second crop, which fortunately is our major production anyway. Figs produce the first crop on last year's wood and the second crop on this year's wood. This is nothing like any other fruit tree.

We market our fruit fresh so it is all hand-picked and hand-packed. Because of the perishability and the way they ripen, we pick them every two to three days. They are very delicate and have to be refrigerated right after harvest. We market our own figs and ship them wholesale all over the country and into Canada.

We do hire all our own crews and we are concerned about the tightening labor situation. This is one reason that we haven't expanded. We employ more than 100 people during our harvest. We are considering hiring a contractor for a portion of our labor this year. It will depend on whether we get into that crunch. We will be harvesting into mid-November, although it is very weather dependent.

The walnuts are progressing normally. It looks like the crop is fairly heavy and I see that throughout the orchard. We've had to do a minimal amount of spraying for codling moths.

The market is fabulous. You can't get any better than it was last year and it is supposed to be just as strong this year. So I expect to have good returns on the walnuts.

Regarding the olives that are growing in this region, it looks like the manzanillos have a very good set and the sevillanos are on the light side.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and cherry grower

The cherry crop finished for us about the first week of June and the quality was very good. The crop was average in size. The only real issue we had this year was the balancing act with labor and trying to share it between what was going on in the vineyards and also cherry harvest.

So far the weather has been ideal for the grapes. We haven't had extreme heat and we haven't had extreme coolness, so it has been a good year so far. We will start to get some verasion, when the grapes start changing color and going from acid to sugar, right about now, which tells me they are right on track to a normal cycle

After verasion, harvest will be about 45 days later, depending on the variety. We will probably start harvest around the end of August.

We got through cherry harvest and we are tying vines, so right now we are OK with labor. The big push was in late April, May and the first part of June, and I've never heard so many people complain about labor than this year. Every grower I talked with, whether it was cherries or other crops such as thinning apples, the labor supply was just really short. It was also very undependable. A grower may have a crew of 40 people picking his cherries and the next day it was down to 20, like they just disappeared.

And with our winegrapes, even though the grapes are machine harvested, we still need people to operate that. One thing that I've started doing is hiring our cherry crews earlier and offering them work in the vineyard until the cherries are ready; that way when we are ready to harvest we have a crew in place. That seems to be working out. But not everyone can offer that.

By Casey Stone, Yolo County beef producer

In our cattle operation, this was one of our most challenging springs in recent history. After starting out with extended drought conditions during the winter, we were concerned about having adequate feed for our cows.

We normally produce enough of our own winter forage, but eventually we had to purchase outside hay. The "Miracle March" rains truly saved what could have been a disastrous season. In spite of that, we've still scrambled to find enough pasture, so we've been aggressively culling our breeding herd, and we shipped cattle to Oregon and Northern California.

We're just finishing spring shipping. Weaning weights are off due to the late feed season, but the markets are holding well as supplies continue to tighten up in the feedlots.

In our farming operation, we've just completed planting sudan hay for the export market. Prices are expected to be decent, even though seed has been ridiculously expensive this year. The alfalfa market has dropped significantly, as the dairies are still struggling to survive. We also grew ryegrass hay for the export market this year, and both yields and prices have been good. The hay presses are filling up, so demand is leveling off.

By Philip Bowles, Merced County diversified grower

The cotton was late getting started this year. Up where we are in Los Banos, we actually did not put in any pima at all. Pima was just marginal where we are anyway, and it was five days too late. But we did put in some hazera and our normal complement of acala that we roller gin.

It has the potential to be a very good crop. The bugs have been almost out to lunch, they just aren't there. With the cotton, it comes down to bugs and weather, and from a cultural standpoint so far there is nothing to complain about.

With the tomatoes, it was cold weather when they were planted, but then we got some warmer weather, and the plants took off. We are certainly way ahead of normal on heat units, so everything is doing very well. Our tomatoes are harvested later than in some of the other areas. Our harvest will mostly be in September, and maybe a little bit at the end of August, so there may be some weather concerns.

We are now about 20 percent drip on our ranch with all of our crops, and I expect that we will get to 75 percent fairly soon. It gives us all kinds of advantages. There are capital costs to put it in and maintenance costs, but on balance it allows us to manage the crop much better, it saves water and there is less runoff. For every four bad things about drip, there are eight good things.

We have a fairly stable labor force, but just like everyone else, I wish we had a sane labor policy. I feel sorry for the agricultural labor force in general. They aren't criminals, they are the people we need.

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

With temperature highs in the low 80s and sometimes down in the 70s for the past few weeks not many are complaining, but it certainly is unusually mild weather. Last year at this time, abnormal weather meant rain through May and an inch of rain in June alone, resulting in sporadic olive bloom into June. So mild is a welcome relief this year.

This year's olive bloom and pit hardening stages progressed as normal. It is this time of year when you can really start to anticipate the size of the crop, as the olives are quickly growing. While the trees appeared to be loaded with inflorescences last April/May, in talking to neighbors in my area the size of this year's crop will be more than adequate. But it certainly won't be the limb-breaking harvest we all talked about or even dreaded last May, fearing a flood of olives hitting the market looking for a cheap home.

Looking ahead, temperatures should be rising back to normal mid-90s, and even a stretch of 100-degree-plus days wouldn't be unwelcomed, helping to control the olive fruit fly. With a mild winter and mild start to summer, it could be a rough year controlling olive fruit fly.

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