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From the Fields® - October 23, 2013

By Keith Watkins, Tulare County citrus grower

We are starting the new crop season. Satsumas are being harvested now and we started navel harvest on Monday. Fruit quality looks good on both of them. The size structure of the fruit looks good, a little bigger than last year. The yields on the Satsumas are about average and on the navels we are down slightly from last year.

We are harvesting lemons in the Imperial Valley and some light harvesting of lemons in the San Joaquin Valley. The quality is good and the markets are good.

Labor is a challenge, but we seem to be able to pick what we want right now. It is tight, but we are getting by.

Navel harvest will go until late June. There are a lot of different varieties of navels. We are picking the early-season navels now, and then we will go into our midseason navels, which are the true Washington navels. And then we go into the late navels in May and June.

Water is always a concern. We had to drill more wells this year than we had in the past and we have had some wells fail on us. So, we are hoping that if we have a decent, wet winter we won’t have to continue that trend.

We have the Asian citrus psyllid in this area now and we have several quarantines throughout Tulare County that we are working with. I am on the packing and farming sides, so I see both. We are working with the agencies to try to minimize any movement of the pest and we are treating for the pest, which is increasing some of our pest control costs.

By Clay Daulton, Madera County cattle rancher

"Poised" is the only theme I can come up with for my cattleman’s comments this time. It seems like we’re on the verge of many changes—some good, some worrisome.

We’re waiting for the new winter rainfall and seasonal changes. We’re poised for the final storm of a federal farm bill.

We’re perpetually poised for the next environmental regulation or tax emanating from any of the at least 11 government agencies with rule, tax and fee-collection authority.

We’re anticipating new groundwater management requirements and concerned about more government oversight. We’re poised to react to cattle prices, waiting with trepidation to see if they’re the new normal or just another bubble before a downtrend.

I’m up to my ears with renovations. My office is in plastic boxes on the floor and I’ve had to sit through a series of non-productive appointments. It’s hard to talk about activities on our ranch right now because it seems like we’re on the verge of everything—waiting, poised. I guess it’s the time of year.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified farmer

We are currently harvesting cantaloupes and honeydews in the Yuma area, as well as lemons. The weather is beautiful. The almanac averages for this time of year are 90 degrees and 51 degrees and we are basically right on those numbers. We did have very strong winds a few weeks ago and that disrupted things a little. But really, we are very pleased with the quality of our citrus right now, and even our melons that we started up in the Yuma district. These crops are meeting our hopes and expectations as far as quality.

Water is obviously the biggest concern and right behind it is labor. Even in the Imperial Valley, where we are in a very strong position as far as the law of the river goes, our irrigation district is having to monitor our water use very closely. The whole grower base is spending a lot of time and money trying to become even more efficient in our practices to do everything we can to cooperate in the effort to be water efficient.

Labor has been an issue for the better part of five to eight years. It is either accentuated through an abundance of supply or a lack of supply. We are very concerned as packers and shippers with the cooperative effort of our government. There has been an effort over the last five years to work with our elected officials for some kind of guestworker reform. They think there is an abundance of people because they hear of high unemployment rates. They think we can go to the local unemployment office and find people. But those people just don’t want to come out and work. They’ve created too much of a welfare society. Why would they want to come out and work when they are getting supplemented through the government? We need to try to change that direction if we can as a society.

We will be harvesting fall sweet corn beginning the first week of November. And that looks promising. It is always much more difficult to grow a quality crop and get the quantity because it is so warm. Our spring crop that is harvested during the first week in April starts germination in the first to middle part of December.

By Jonnalee Henderson, Colusa County nut grower

We will finish up both our almond and walnut harvests in the next week or two. We have been blessed this season with generally great weather and a good crop, with minimal amounts of rain. Overall, the harvest has been going very smooth. And of course we are hoping for very wet weather as soon as all almonds and walnuts are out of the field. It would be great to have a very wet winter.

We are right now getting water back onto the harvested trees and planning for our foliar zinc application as soon as harvest is fully finished.

Today, we had an unannounced food safety inspection at our hulling and shelling facility by the Department of Public Health, reminding us of the importance of keeping our records and paper trail of all of our sanitation practices, and making sure that all of our practices are transparent and we are adhering to the food safety laws.

They have been visiting a lot of the hullers in this area. They come unannounced about every three to four years.

Harvest is a time that we are most reminded of all the wonderful people who are involved in our farming operation. This includes our employees, handlers, checkers, technicians, grower reps and so many more. And we appreciate everyone who contributes to make harvesttime a team effort.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified farmer

San Benito County agriculture certainly does not look the way it did when I was cutting apricots at 4 years old in the early ’60s. The prune growers back then had enough clout to delay the start of the rural grammar schools by a week so that families could finish the picking. Prunes, apples and pears are all but gone, and less than 600 acres of apricots are sticking around by their stubbornness to die. For the time being, cherries and walnuts have stabilized at less than 600 and 1,500 acres each. We had 5,000 acres each of walnuts and apricots at one time. So, it was kind of nice to see a neighbor plant a new apricot orchard this year.

It has been an OK year for most of our crops, with the predictable one or two heat spells and the untimely rains. The husk fly was especially precocious in our walnuts, but we got lucky with the great falcon our neighbor employed to chase the starlings from his vineyards. This was, therefore, the first year I can remember that I have not had to set out the propane cannons in our vineyard. I credited global warming for the absence of starlings this year, until my neighbor advised me otherwise. I’m happy to say that the last of our harvests—walnuts—will be in the dehydrator by the time this is read.

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