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From the Fields® - August 5, 2015

By Dave Roberti, Sierra County rancher

It’s been an interesting year. We went from looking like it was going to be a complete disaster this year—and then in May we had a couple of weeks of showers and cool weather. Grain crops and grasses grew like crazy. Then we got halfway through our first cutting, and a thunderstorm came and rained on a third of our first cutting of alfalfa and just wiped it out. It’s gone from one extreme to the other and then back.

The rains didn’t quit, so we couldn’t get the hay off of the field and the next crop was growing up through it, which made it a real challenge. We just got the last of it off and finished baling it, and now we are getting ready to start our second cutting. I’m looking at thunderstorms building again over the mountains.

Hay prices are down quite a bit from where we hoped they’d be. Cattle prices are still pretty good. We’re still healthy and happy and doing fine.

Our water is short. We got cut back to about 40 percent of our allotment and were pumping our wells pretty hard. But at least we’ve got something to work with, where a lot of guys don’t have anything.

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County poultry farmer

It's been quite an interesting year in respect to the weather. For the most part, it has been a very good year for growing turkeys in the West in regards to livibilities (survival expectancy) and weight gains up until the July heat spell as well as little severe winter weather. Short heat spells over time are OK, but abrupt changes cause heat losses, depending on the size of birds in the field. Forty-five pound toms like it a bit cooler than 100 degrees.

Now that the waterfowl have left, the threat of HPAI (high pathogenic avian influenza) this summer is low, but the fall migration around the corner will bring new fears of worse infections to come. Hopefully, it will not be as bad as the Midwest, which was hit hard this spring. Populations of layer hens and turkey losses have totaled over 50 million head in that region, resulting in higher egg prices as well as a loss of 9 percent of the nation's turkey numbers. At last report, it might take two years to recover. My worst fear would be an epidemic in all four flyways. Keeping all poultry, including backyard birds, free from any contact with wild birds is essential in controlling the spread of this deadly disease. If it is found, state and federal agencies quarantine a facility for six to nine months, which is economically devastating on top of the disease loss.

Other news is our new walnut planting is slowly appearing to come around. Lack of chilling temperatures has the walnuts acting a bit strange this season. This is just the difference from the plant and animal sides of agriculture.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon farmer

Due in part to California's dry spring weather and above average temperatures, melon production started about eight to 10 days earlier this year. Volumes and yields have been consistently strong, but fruit sizing has been somewhat inconsistent.

In late June, we struggled with smaller- than-normal sizes, only to shift to larger-than-normal fruit during the first few weeks of July. Unfortunately, buyers don't always understand that we grow outdoors and are not manufacturing widgets. Buyers' ability to make strategic shifts in size is limited, so marketing can be a challenge during inconsistent periods.

That's what is unique and exciting about the melon business. Every season is different and despite planning, you still have to monitor and adjust to changes very quickly. Fortunately, normalcy appears on the horizon. Plant-to-harvest dates have stabilized and sizing looks to be consistent with prior years and varieties. With industry supplies and markets stable, I anticipate a good run for melons during the months of August and September.

The unknown is still the effect of freight costs, local melon-growing regions coming into production, and the development of a possible El Niño. As usual, California melon growers will adapt as necessary and continue to supply the consumer with the highest quality product, grown and harvested under the safest protocols and conditions in the industry.

By Stan Lester, Yolo County diversified grower

We just endured a very hot heat spell—hitting record-breaking temperatures on July 29. With this heat, in combination with the drought, it's a big challenge to irrigate and maintain the water needs of our tree crops.

Hot temperatures, as well as the low humidity, are forcing the trees and plants into evapotranspiration rates between 0.25 to 0.3 inches of water per day. Depending on the design of each irrigation system and water availability, it's a real problem keeping up and maintaining adequate moisture for our trees.

Nevertheless, we finished harvesting our apricot crop a month ago and are a week from wrapping up our fresh peach harvest. The flavor and sweetness of the peaches this year has been outstanding.

We've received many compliments on the quality of both our apricots and peaches that we sell fresh or in pies at our bakery.

Looking ahead, our walnut crop looks to be slightly more than last year, with every variety having a bigger crop. We've had to spray for Botryosphaeria three times this year per the recommendation of the University of California Cooperative Extension advisors.

These treatments certainly have added expense and a lot more to our work schedule, adding it to the need to fertilize, irrigate and possibly treat for mites, codling moth and husk fly.

For some reason, the husk flies have emerged later this year than in past years. Perhaps the weather is affecting their life cycle. Otherwise, the walnut trees and crop look healthy and clean at this point in time.

We have heard rumors that this might be another record walnut crop this year for California. We shall see.

We're also hearing the 2014 crop carryover is being used at a good pace, which should help the pricing situation for the 2015 crop. As we head toward harvest, we hope to finish strong and produce a quality crop for our consumers.

By Scott Rollen, Solano County diversified grower

Everything right now looks good. We are in the midst of harvesting bell peppers; we started that in mid-July and it is going really well. Contending with the heat has been a big next hurdle. The plants haven't had water for a week now, so we are just trying to get through the fields. Tomato harvest will start this week and we have a heavy crop. Our bell peppers and tomatoes are machine harvested.

We have finished irrigating the sunflowers and we've chopped the males out. So now, we are just waiting for the dry-down to commence harvest. And this crop looks good as well. It was nice to get them in early enough with an April 1 planting, so we don't have to irrigate any more. That freed up some water for us to use in other areas where our crops still need water.

We finished hull-split spray on the almonds and now we are just waiting to begin shaking. We are about three weeks away, which is a week earlier than last year and about two weeks earlier than normal. That hot spell that came through in May kind of pushed everything along. The almonds look really good, both the nonpareils and the pollinators.

We are a large alfalfa producer, and what is really hurting us right now is that the market has dropped out of the alfalfa market. It is getting really tough for the summer hay, which is dry cow hay.

What we are hoping for now is a very wet winter.

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