From the Fields® - February 19, 2014

By Greg Phelan, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower

Just like everyone else, our major issue is water. Our rainfall this year is well under a half-inch. We get a few sprinkles now and then, but the extended forecast does not look too promising. So that is our first and major concern. 

Along those lines, above normal temperatures for 40 days throughout December and January, when the temperatures were in the 70s and low 80s, leads to possible early bud push. We had our first signs of an early bud push out here when some ornamental almond trees had already started to bloom. 

That usually gives us a heads up. When the almond trees start blooming, we are usually only about two weeks from getting some grape bud push. That is pretty early for us. It is not unheard of, but it is very early. But all that does is make the water situation even worse because we will have a longer frost protection season and more demand on our already strained water sources.

As far as our cultural operations go, we are probably 85 percent done with our pruning and we will wrap up by the middle of February with all of our pruning. After that we will be in frost protection mode, trying to keep our vines happy.



By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified grower

Through the winter, temperatures were really good except for one cold front that came through in early December. This was the same cold front that impacted so much of the San Joaquin Valley citrus. Other than that we have been running above average on our temperatures and it has had a negative impact on the vegetable crop. That coupled with the exceptionally cold weather in the East and upper Midwest, impacted shipments.

In terms of our spring crops, they all look very promising and right now they are running ahead of schedule. That could change, but we are probably running five to seven days ahead of schedule on the spring crops. The ones that we have are melons, sweet corn and citrus.

At this point the Imperial Valley is in a satisfactory position on water and we don't see any cutbacks. But we are very hypersensitive to the water shortages around and we continue to implement the best management practices possible for water management.

There are some growers who are considering going a little bit later on some of our items, which would be the melons and the corn and trying to pick up another additional week by planting 10 days to two weeks later.

The corn begins in the early part of April, and the onions begin right after that and then the melons begin in early May and we continue on until the first of July on the melons. This is the prime growing period in the Imperial Valley. There is concern about the early San Joaquin Valley melons because of the water restrictions.

Labor is adequate because the demand for product has been down. This is a Catch 22 for us, that's for sure.


By Kathye Rietkerk, San Bernardino County greenhouse producer

We are in the midst of a robust indoor plant production program, preparing for what we hope is a good spring. While January sales were slow, we have high expectations for the rest of the season.

We are also gearing up our specialty outdoor garden and patio vegetable and herb production. We've been cultivating a wide array of ethnic favorites, including more than 30-plus types of regional hot peppers.

Like many other "water conscious" agricultural operations, Kallisto Greenhouses began investing in water saving technology during the drought in the early 1990s and we continue to do so today. While we're relieved that some rain and snow has fallen on California this past week, we hope the state will receive a lot more precipitation through March.

It just makes sense that adding water storage facilities will be vital in the future as we go through times of recurring drought, such as we are currently experiencing. 


By Richard Mounts, Sonoma County winegrape grower

The main thing we're doing right now is finishing pruning and tying vines. Also, before the rain hit last week, we were doing weed control, but had to stop. I'm not complaining. We really needed the rain.

Thanks to the deluge last week, we got nine inches of rain on the ranch, 13 inches to 14 inches in some of the wetter spots in the county. We didn't see any erosion or flooding, even though rainfall amounts were pretty big—most of it soaked into the ground.

The rain has helped fill the water column on our ranch and there might be enough soil moisture now to carry us to bud break. I haven't been out to dig down and check, but that's what I'm hoping.

The rain wasn't enough to fill the reservoirs, which supply us with water for frost protection. So we worry about that. On the other hand, the heavy rain has opened up some of the creeks for the salmon, which can begin moving into the tributaries to spawn.

And, we're starting to make contact with wineries. Some of our existing contracts are up for renewal and I've even had a few calls from new wineries looking to discuss contracts. We've had some tough years recently, but 2012-13 was one of the best for sales I've seen in the 40 years I've been farming.

I think that was because inventories were down and wine sale were up. We didn't get that much resistance on our prices. Negotiating contracts and sales aren't the most pleasant part of farming, but it's important to sell what you grow.


By Pete Belluomini, Kern County potato grower

We're winding up the fall potato harvest and in the midst of spring planting for the summer potatoes. We grow fresh market potatoes and we're very pleased with the market. It has been nice and solid from the fall into the winter.

The reds and yellows are selling a little slower than they have been, but that's because there's a lot coming out of storage and into the market. The whites don't lend themselves to storage, so we've been OK there.

As far as timing, we're on schedule with planting and harvesting. Quality and crop size have been very good.

We're caught up on all our field chores. Usually at this time of year, we're hustling to get things done, but with no rain to stop us, we're ahead of the work.

Like everybody, we're worried about water. That seems to be the biggest concern. We'll be OK with water for the spring crop, but by late summer and fall, it's hard to say.

We get our water from the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, which has an aggressive water banking program. But, even with those supplies, we've adopted an approach of careful water use. Some rotational crops will have to be trimmed back in our planning.

The other impact we're seeing from lack of water is local rents for row-crop land going up. We're feeling the ripple effect. If there's not enough water to grow farther north, farmers are moving down here because the water supply seems more stable.

It's getting harder to hold onto leases for vegetable ground, because of the increased demand from buyers who want to plant permanent crops like almonds.


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