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From the Fields® - August 3, 2016

By Dana Merrill, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower

Here on the Central Coast, our vines are just moving into veraison. Some areas are more advanced than others, of course. It appears that harvest will begin in August again, as in the past few years. Vines grew well to start the year, with more normal rainfall, but the heat spikes have put some stress on them in Paso Robles.

While rains helped with salts, they were not the heavy El Niño that had been forecast, so there was not much help for the aquifers, it seems.

Beyond that, labor is becoming an increasing concern in terms of supply. Wage hikes as the minimum wage increases are another concern, and the ruling that changed how nonproductive time is to be paid has sent shockwaves through our labor supply and labor contractors.

Marketing-wise, there is decent demand for variety-specific needs of wineries. Cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir seem to be leading the way in their respective ideal regions from Paso Robles to Monterey and Santa Barbara. Yields look to be average overall, based upon cluster counts.

By John Eiskamp, Santa Cruz County berry grower

This is the height of berry season. Strawberries, which are the largest crop in our valley, are at peak production. Growers in some cases have been struggling with availability of harvest crews. I have seen some fields that have been abandoned or mowed down because of lack of labor.

As far as the caneberries and raspberries, the early pricing was challenged, and we were in a situation where the market couldn't handle the volume. As a result, we had to divert fruit to processing in order to release some of the pressure on the fresh market. Unfortunately, the returns from processing are about half of what it costs to pick the fruit, so it is a losing proposition. But the goal is to protect the fresh market and keep it sustainable. That situation has eased up now, as production is way down and we are now in the summer when things slow down.

Blackberries are in the peak of the season and volumes are high. Pricing is somewhat low, but not as bad as it was in the raspberries earlier in the year. We had a cold winter with good chill, so that has helped the development of the blackberries. Hopefully, the prices will strengthen as the season goes on.

Harvest started about normal this year. Raspberry yields, because some was diverted to processing, are going to be on the low side. Blackberry yields look pretty decent this year.

We have a very high labor requirement. We are doing better than some. We have had to do some overtime this year, more than I like. You can't get behind, especially in raspberries, because of the time it takes to get caught up. We haven't had to walk away from any blocks this year.

After several years of increased acreage, it has kind of dropped off the last couple years, especially in raspberries, because the market isn't as strong as it was five years ago. After this year, we may see even more raspberry acres being taken out.

My berries are sold through Driscoll and shipped across the United States, Canada, Mexico and some overseas exports.

By Jake Samuel, San Joaqin County diversified grower

We finished cherry harvest at the end of May this season and worked into our postharvest cleanup.

Cherry harvest this season was probably the most interesting I have ever seen. We had a wide range of quality and a wide range of size. The early rain in May was very detrimental to our bings and some of our early varieties as well.

Right now, we are keeping an eye on mites and leafhoppers; in August, we may have an application. We are also working in topping and hedging our cherries and removal of deadwood this month. Fertilizer has also been going out this last month.

Walnuts are looking very heavy this season. They are beginning to harden off their shells and we are keeping an eye on mites as well. Codling moth and huskfly counts have been well at bay this year. It may be because we have not had much heat over 100 degrees. With that being said, we are also weary of the Botroperia fungi that can grow in cooler conditions, so we are watching this closely as well.

However, the warm temperatures at the end of July may change things. Timing for walnut harvest should be around the same time as last year, as we are beginning our custom shaking of almonds the first week of August.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

We are gearing up for almond harvest and finishing up prepping our fields. Hull split seemed somewhat uniform this year, but we are currently having a high heat wave and not sure how that will affect the nuts.

Right now, we are mowing weeds in the center of the rows and spraying the weeds on the borders to help clean up the orchard. We are taking props down that are holding the heavy branches up. Everything is getting one last irrigation this week before we start harvest; we want to guarantee the trees aren't too water stressed heading into harvest.

We are finishing up last-minute checks on shakers, sweepers, harvesters and tractors to ensure everything will be running smoothly when it comes time to go, and try to cut back on any down time from equipment sitting too long. Some farmers around us have started shaking early, which could be due to navel orangeworm pressure or water stress. We will be shaking nonpareils this week.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

Growing conditions have been favorable for most of the summer so far, and crops are looking good. Growers on the west side of Stanislaus County are beginning to shake almonds this week, which is a few days earlier than last year, and it appears to be a good crop so far.

Processing tomato harvest is starting up in the area, as well as cantaloupe harvest. Apricot harvest finished up in June; the season was short, though production was much better than 2015. The walnuts are sizing nicely at this point, and most lima beans in the area are growing well.

With low hay prices and increasing water costs, many alfalfa fields have been pulled out in our area and either fallowed or planted to other crops this year.

Water continues to be an issue, especially for Central Valley Project contractors who are unsure if water they have stored in San Luis Reservoir will be available when they need it for irrigating. The uncertainty of our surface water supply on the Westside continues to be a major concern for farmers in the area, with little to no positive news from the Bureau of Reclamation or state of California.

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