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From the Fields® - July 25, 2012

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County vegetable grower

Brussels sprouts production has now shifted to California. In the last week or two, we started harvest of transplants that were planted in March. At this point, things are going well. The early production looks good and that is what we'll be picking throughout the summer.

We anticipate, starting with our machine harvesting in mid-September; that's when the volume will pick up and we should have good supplies out of California through January. There's more Brussels sprouts planted this year than last year. We had a tremendous year last year, so people planted a few extra acres.

During the month of June, the weather was sunny almost every day, which is a little unusual for the Central Coast, but it hasn't affected the crop one way or another. We also just got finished planting this year's Brussels sprouts crop.

Labor is a little tight. In our area in the Central Coast, you are seeing more signs up along the sides of the roads that are announcing people looking for workers. My guy that is going to start picking next week is short of where he needs to be, so he is hoping to pick up some more guys this week. There's no overabundance of workers out there, that's for sure.

By John Amaro, Glenn County rice grower

Rice this year is going to be behind by a couple of weeks because of the spring weather. The weather did warm up and we got our crop in, but it is still going to be behind. We're probably looking at the first of October for harvest.

We're having more and more of a weed problem every year, it seems like. I see some weedier fields around, a little bit more than the other years, and it is not just water grass, it is other aquatic weeds that we're also having a problem with.It is a challenging year. There are two theories why we are having the weed problem: One is herbicide resistance and the other is because of the wetter ground and whenever we have a wet spring, normally we have a bit more weed pressure.

Even with the weeds that are out there, the stands look good. The rice all-in-all does look good. We just got done doing our top dressing on our fields, adding some more fertilizer.

For prices, most of the time with rice, it follows the shirttails of corn, wheat and other grains. The country is having a national drought, so corn prices I imagine are going to be going up and that's probably going to affect rice prices to a certain extent.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We are pleased to report positive news from the premium zinfandel wine region of the Sierra foothills. Thanks to some needed late precipitation, the winegrape canopies are green and lush, expediting the harvest, in line for the average first week in September.

The cluster count is a welcome average to slightly above, imperatively needed from last year's lack of fruit. The tepid temperatures and IPM have abated all signs of mildew, and the quality of the crop looks healthy. The winegrapes are the circumference size of Cheerios, and any day should start to exhibit color, or veraison.

Foothill winegrape farms could not operate without a reliable fieldworker force. Last harvest season was challenging for growers to find harvest crews. Being miles from the populated valley, contractors are already seeing the absence of available fieldworkers.

Walnut growers seem content with the quantity of crop in the canopy. The open, non-irrigated pastures have long been golden brown, yet persistent with feed from the late spring rains. We just had a second generation of baby wood ducks hatch from one of our tree boxes.

By Mark Borba, Fresno County diversified grower

The summer harvest season on the Central Valley's Westside got off with a murmur. The cooler-than-normal spring and summer delayed harvest start dates for garlic, melons and tomatoes about seven to 10 days. Once begun, however, yields and quality have uniformly been excellent.

Almond hull-split began the second week in July, indicating a normal harvest beginning in mid- to late August. The crop appears to be excellent, although varying reports from around the state indicate a wide range of final forecast production from a 1.7 to 2.1 billion pound crop. Markets appear to be eager to ship in excess of the 2011 1.9 billion pound harvest as prices are holding steady, and optimism reigns for that to continue through 2012.

Pima cotton appears to be setting a great bloom, and where drip irrigation is utilized and insect pressures have remained low, great yields are likely. Pricing has been difficult to assess, as economic uncertainties in countries spinning/weaving pima have been uncertain. Where last season $1.75-$2 per pound bids were common, current quotes are sub-$1.25 a pound, with limited volumes sought.

Wheat has been largely harvested, with normal yields and exceptional protein levels, resulting in few discounts for quality.

The Huron lettuce harvest in the spring was a disaster, with many growers failing to return even direct costs due to low prices driven by excess supplies. The fall crop fields are being prepared currently, but acreages are significantly reduced by shippers not wanting a repeat of their spring experience.

Finally, water allocations appear to be adequate to compete 2012 crops, but as the 2013 field prep begins, growers are once again faced with uncertainty and little legislative or governmental clarity bringing reliability to the all-important ag water supplies shipped through the delta. Caution will be the rule of the day as following a reduced 80 percent of contract delivery in 2011, and only 40 percent in 2012, given the snowless mountains and low reservoir levels certain to exist this fall, anticipating a sufficient surface water supply for normal cropping would be foolish and very risky. Unless we enjoy a normal or above normal winter storm delivery, 2013 will once again see large acreages fallow, with all the unemployment and economic ripple effects in the valley.

By Russel Efird, Fresno County diversified grower

We grow raisin grapes, winegrapes, almonds, walnuts and prunes. This year compared to last year, all of our crops are ahead of last year's maturity points. Harvesting for almonds on early ranches may begin around the first of August and other places seven to 10 days after that.

The winegrapes and Thompson seedless are all maturing well. They are maybe three days ahead and we have been fortunate they're very light with berry diseases such as mildew, and it looks like this crop is going to mature without any big problems, especially compared to last year, when we had some challenges.

It looks like everything is on schedule and things are going well. Our last irrigation on Thompsons will be done around the first part of August and for almonds our last irrigation before harvest will be at different times because of different varieties.

We are just getting ready for harvest and once again we are fortunate to be in the ag business in this economy and we look forward to another good year.

We are looking OK with labor. All of our crops are machine harvested, including our raisins. We do continuous tray. Our contractor is running short of people, but we are ahead of the normal pick time so in our case it looks like we will be OK. We feel that we will always have a labor shortage, which is kind of amazing with the high unemployment here in California. But we all know that answer.

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