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From the Fields® - May 1, 2013

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

Spring is definitely here. After a great start to winter and snow levels above normal, the weather sure did dry up. While we did get good chill hours for the trees, moisture is nowhere to be found.

Normally we would like it dry for the pollination of the walnuts, but this year it may have been too dry. Even though it is still a bit early to tell, it seems as though the crop may be light and growers are talking that it could be due to lack of moisture. Time will tell.

As spring continues to warm, and winter pruning is done, mowing and fertilizing are in full swing, getting the winter weeds under control is almost complete. Without our normal spring showers, many orchards are on their second and third irrigations. The Sacramento River is very low and there are concerns there will be enough water for summer irrigations.

Meanwhile, strip sprays and insect monitoring are well underway.

Price for walnuts remains strong and looks to be good for this year’s crop. I am hopeful with such a low level of rain this spring that the summer will not be too hot, as we don’t have great sub-moisture for the trees. If it does turn really hot, we could be in for a long summer.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

Right now we’re planting cotton. The weather has been pretty good for that. Tomatoes were transplanted about three weeks ago. The crops that have been growing since the fall are onions, garlic and garbonzos. They are developing well and should be on time. The almonds look good. We got a little bit of wind in the last couple of weeks and that probably shaved off the yield a little bit, but they still look good. We did have a field of pomegranates and those are being taken out—the market is completely upside down. So we’re going with winegrapes. It seems to be more favorable in demand than the pomegranates.

Of course it is a light water year, so people have been struggling with the water supply. We’re going to be fallowing some land as a result of that. It will be land fallowing similar to last year, maybe a little bit more; we just can’t make it with the well water and the canal water.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Up here in the Sierra foothills, we are still only about 60 percent of normal for rainfall. For winegrapes, it can be a good thing, because the less rain you get, the higher quality you get. But the problem is that up where we live, with these soils we need a minimum of 26 inches to sustain a healthy crop, so we are concerned that we can keep our vines healthy and sustain them throughout the year.

So what we are doing to compensate is keeping the grass cut nice and short. When we did our pruning, we left fewer spurs, so we have less of a crop and less stress on the vine. This is one of those years where we are not going for quantity, but we are definitely going for quality.

Over the last couple weeks, we did have some damaging frost. It was enough to cause some damage on the young vines. Overall it is less than 10 percent damage, but it just slows down the growth for the young vines.

And that is what farming is about: You have the good times and sometimes you have some struggling times, but you just keep going forward.

This is the time of year that we are doing some budding on our vines. So if we want to switch over from our St. George rootstock, we are doing that now. This is the perfect time. My grandfather always said this is the best time of the year to be budding those vines, so you have to just hold onto your heritage sometimes to make a good product.

We do have a few walnuts in our area and the catkins are hanging heavily from the trees, so it looks like they will be having a good crop that is coming forward.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

We have had above-normal temperatures and everything is coming in earlier than normal. The pistachios had a nice, uniform bud break, which indicates that we must have had plenty of chilling hours, so that was off to a good start. Of course, the cotton was planted on the early side and came up under excellent conditions, so that bodes well for the potential crop. We are in the middle of our second cutting of alfalfa. And just this morning (April 24) we are beginning to cut our wheat for forage for the dairies. The wheat looks exceptionally good. We had no disease pressure in it and ours stood up very well.

Our dairy continues to have economic pressures. We have Jerseys, so we are getting a little premium over the Holstein guys, but it continues to be a tough deal.

But the No. 1 issue for everybody is water. We farm in two irrigation districts. One of them will not run at all, and the other one will run for only about two weeks. So the pumps for our wells will start soon and basically won’t shut off until August. It is going to be a long summer.

The pumps cost money to run, but the bigger issue is just the availability of water. Our underground aquifer is our savings account. It is difficult to get the water back into the ground, so it is very worrisome. But we are all in the same boat. We made arrangements. We’ve drilled some wells, we’ve deepened some wells. This is just an ongoing maintenance issue.

We have a substantial planting of 165 acres of pistachios. It is tough to get trees. The nurseries are all backed up because there is so much of that going on. Normally, we like to get the trees in early spring and we haven’t gotten them yet. Hopefully, we will get them in late May and get them planted. Our drip system is in place and we are ready for it.

From a purely agronomic point of view, things look very good. We are off to a good early start and the crops look good; cotton prices have continued to stay at profitable levels; other than water and the dairy, everything else looks quite good.

By Tyler Blagg, San Joaquin County diversified farmer

Our dryland winter forage crop of wheat, barley and oats is growing well. The dry weather we had in February allowed us to get into the fields and spray for a variety of weeds. The majority of the hay we grow is for our own heifers, to help reduce feed costs during the winter months.

We just moved our Holstein and Jersey dairy heifers out to the irrigated pastures. The pastures were slow to green, as the last couple of months have been cold and dry.

On one pasture, we just updated a portion of the irrigation system with new pipe and valves. We use irrigation timers to monitor our irrigation on each field, as well as to irrigate at the proper times to capture the best PG&E rates.

This has helped cut down on expenses. In early April, we received almost an inch of rain on the east side of Lodi and that was followed by a lot of windy days.

Most dairy springer sales have been fair, considering the current economy.

All of our heifers are bred by artifical insemination and pregnancy is confirmed using a blood pregnancy test. We have seen great results with this easy-to-use technology. We are currently in the process of rebuilding perimeter fence and adding a lane to move heifers more easily from field to field.

By Mat Conant, Yuba/Sutter walnut and rice grower

Rice is being planted as we speak. Guys are working our fields, leveling, fertilizing and preparing the fields for flooding. Then they’ll seed the rice with the airplane.

In walnuts, we’re doing some of our last blight sprays, we’re starting irrigation water, and we’re planting trees and trying to get all our cultural practices ready. It is a busy time of year.

Our water supply in our district is limited to 1.1 acre-feet per acre. This is what we voted to issue to the growers because we have to give up 4,400 acre-feet to the Bay Delta Settlement Agreement and also we’ve got to cut back on our amount of surface water. We expect our wells will handle this extra load without any problem.

Labor seems OK, at the moment. We’re not too short right now, but in walnuts we are more mechanized.

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