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From the Fields® - April 1, 2015

By Adam Boles, Glenn County rice and row crop grower

Water is at a premium at this time of year. We are still waiting to assess the outcome of the decisions regarding water deliveries. Rice farmers in our area are anxious to get started, but everyone is unsure of water deliveries and quantities at this point.

Last year, we had to fallow some rice fields because they weren't able to have water delivered to them, and some of our wells were starting to get pretty short of water towards the end of the year. There were some shrinking water levels. This will be a big concern again this year and as we near that midsummer peak need, we will find out what our wells can do.

The almond trees have completed their bloom and bees are moving on to their next location. General orchard maintenance and spraying is going on.

We are all optimistic about a good 2015, even with the short water.

By Pete Belluomini, Kern County potato, carrot and citrus farmer

We haven't begun harvesting potatoes in Kern County yet; it will be about a month before it begins. Right now, we're harvesting in the Imperial Valley. It looks like it will be about four more weeks on the deal.

By the end of April, we should be back here. Then it will be full-speed ahead harvesting here. All our potatoes are grown for the fresh markets and all the varieties are the same in Kern County and Imperial Valley. The difference is in timing the crop and harvest.

But we're diversified potato growers from top to bottom—from seeds to growing, packaging, marketing. We wear tennis shoes and field boots. We're producing as close to year-round as we can make it.

Besides fresh potatoes, we also grow carrots, onions, citrus, grapes and almonds. Added to that mix is a certified organic growing operation. We've been growing organic crops since 1997 and production has grown to be almost as big or bigger than the conventional side.

We're rockin' and rollin'. Besides fresh-market potatoes, we've got early onions and carrots that we'll harvest in the summer. Our rotational crops—wheat and forage hay—are coming up for harvest.

I'm excited about the organic side of the company. I've got some garlic that looks excellent and some canning tomatoes and fresh, whole heirloom tomatoes, which we've gotten into growing in the last few years.

Those crops have been transplanted in the past few weeks and they're taking off. Also in the organics, we have a bell pepper program and those are going in too. Basically, we're harvesting potatoes and rotation crops, but the other crops are off and running.

Of course, we're worried about water. It's the No. 1 thing on everyone's mind. It's scary. We had some rainfall day-to-day during the winter—a quarter inch here, a half inch there. It makes farming so much better and it's nice to re-educate ourselves about how to work in the wet fields.

As far as our surface irrigation water, we're looking at a much tighter contract prorate for deliveries than we had about a year ago in our area. Hopefully, most of us are going to make it.

We're in it for the long haul. But if we have to cut back and be smart so we can secure the long haul, we will.

But droughts are cyclical and we want to be one of the growers left standing, so we'll slow down production if we have to.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified farmer

It has been an unseasonably warm winter. The first two weeks of January provided reasonable winter weather. We started our alfalfa harvest in early February, about two to three weeks early.

Because of the warm winter, our aphid pressure has been uncharacteristically high. Where our typical insecticide aphid application would last 30 to 45 days, we are only getting mild/moderate suppression for seven to 14 days. Once again, we find ourselves at a competitive disadvantage with our competing alfalfa growers across the Colorado River in Arizona that have the ability to use Sivanto, a very effective material for aphid control.

With the warm winter temperatures, we were able to plant cotton the first part of March and it is off to a good start. Again, our Arizona cotton growers will probably get to use Transform for aphid and whitefly control, while we California cotton growers will probably not. Having the ability to use these latest chemistries makes a huge impact on the bottom line.

Our garlic has entered the cloving stage and progresses nicely. We anticipate harvest in early July.

By Kenny Watkins, San Joaquin County walnut grower and beef producer

We keep hoping for rain. The light soils in the pastures are starting to dry up and the hay that should get another 30 days of growing will have to be cut very soon. We grow a dryland forage mix that we feed to our cattle. We just never got those last few rains that we were hoping would come through. This has just speeded up everything that we have to do.

The cows are fat and happy at the moment, but it is not going to last long. We are mostly fall calvers, but I carry the cows all year round on the ranch, and there isn't much available for them to eat to carry them over to next year.

We've always had walnuts. I am gearing up to start spraying. Right now, we are waiting to see what kind of crop is set, based on the winter that we had. The bloom was good, but who knows how this strange winter we had will affect the crop.

But farmers are resourceful. We will figure out a way to get by. We are lucky in our area that we will be able to come up with enough groundwater and a little bit of surface water to be able to irrigate our crops. We are a lot better off than growers in other parts of the state.

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County Brussels sprouts farmer

We're plowing right now and getting ready for fumigating so we can start planting in about a month. Because we plant the same ground in Brussels sprouts every year, the nematodes would get out of control if we didn't properly prepare the soil.

We finished harvesting the last crop in mid-January. Harvest went smoothly because it was dry. But we need some rain, because the ground is drying out too quickly.

We hope we'll get some rain here pretty soon or we'll have to irrigate before we can fumigate, which is a hassle. I hate to irrigate that much ground before you even plant it. Normally, there's some moisture in the soil, but not this year.

But we're coming off of a good year, better than normal. The market was good, especially with the added acreage in Monterey County. But people are planting in Gilroy and Oxnard. People are jumping in because we've been having good prices.

When you look at all the new acres that have been added, it gives you an idea how strong consumer demand is. It used to be that 65 percent of the crop went to processing, but now it's probably 30 percent and the rest goes to fresh.

The public prefers fresh sprouts and we're sourcing from all over because people want to eat fresh. For us, Canada is a big export market. Once it gets cold there, they look to us for 100 percent of their fresh market supply.

We're hoping the strong market continues and expect to plant about the same number of acres. We think we can get through with the water we have this year, but if it doesn't rain, I'm not sure about next year. There are some growers experiencing water issues and they may cut back this year.

Wells are going dry and those who depend on surface water are going to be in trouble, unless it rains. The streams in our area are flowing at levels we normally see in June. It's scary when you're growing on the coast and look out and see all the water in the ocean.

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