From the Fields® - April 17, 2019

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

We had bud break down here around the 17th of March. We are about 10 days to two weeks behind. We had a great rain year, with over 18 inches of rain in the Los Alamos area. Our reservoirs are looking good and it really benefited our wells and groundwater. It looks like it is pretty much done now. We may get a few showers in April.

So far, bud break has been uneventful. We haven't had any frost events to date, which is good.

I am still trying to figure out what kind of crop we have out there. Chardonnay came out ahead of our pinot noir, which doesn't happen very often. The chardonnay has the potential to be a better than average crop. The pinot noir looks to be a little light, but we have a long way to go.

We started our first round of mildew sprays. We got through pruning fairly well with labor. Labor is a little tight now that strawberries have started up in Santa Maria, and we are competing with cane berries and cannabis. So, labor will be tightening up even more.

One of the biggest issues with growers using H-2A is that they are having a hard time finding housing for these employees. They need to work with cities and counties to accommodate them. People typically aren't thrilled to have them in town. And it is hard to get housing built on ag properties, so we have some work to do there with our urban neighbors to accommodate our H-2A program.

Last year for us was average to a little below. If we had an average to a little below average this year, it wouldn't be all bad. It would certainly help the wine supply.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

After what seems like a decade of sub-normal rainfall, this year was a welcome exception. With about 115 percent of average rainfall so far this year, dry periods were few and far between. This made trying to stay on your planting schedule very difficult. Often, we were planting and transplanting in the rain while trying to beat a major storm that would keep us out of the fields for a week.

This is not ideal and usually results in lower production, but with all the wet weather during planting, there should be spikes in spring prices due to shortages in supplies and the hope is that this will offset lower production levels.

The wet winter may also have lingering effects on crop production. With the early rains, we were not able to keep up with our ground preparation and thus had to try to work up ground while still wet. This could cause ground compaction and also degrade soil structure and reduce production for future crops.

Though the wet weather caused difficulty in production, it was welcomed with open arms since we all know that the next drought is just around the corner.

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County orchardist

With such a wet February and part of March, our cherry bloom has been delayed by about 7-10 days across all varieties. This puts harvest in the Linden/Lodi area toward the later part of May, where we are normally beginning harvest first part of May and mid-April from the southern part of the state.

Thus far, the early varieties are showing signs that we are going to have a very healthy crop of the cherries this season. With a heavy crop, this begins the process of timing out our nutrient applications with timing of the first irrigation. Since we had such a welcomed wet winter, this makes timing of irrigation and the nutrient application a little trickier.

Other activities that have been delayed are our tree replants and some pruning activities and spring disking as well. Walnuts are looking at a later bloom as well, with Chandler now beginning to have catkin expansion, and the earlier varieties have received the first round of blight applications. This week and the coming week we are starting our blight applications for Chandlers. Fingers crossed for a dry spring.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower

I don't really know if it's a cyclical thing or the wet winter, but the oak trees are leafing with a burst of energy. And driving up I-5 this afternoon, it looks like the almond orchards are on the same trek. Here in Hollister, we are hoping the rest of our crops will follow.

The cherry bloom was staggered, as was the apricots. Too soon to tell what the resulting crop set will be. The old June drop for apricots makes it a fool's errand to predict tonnage now. Cherries can have a similar self-aborting drop too, in early May.

I was mowing the barley cover crop in the vineyard earlier this week. The vines are showing a nice bud push and the malbec is already at multiple leaves. The hills are green with lots of grass.

More good news: The well standing water levels are way up. The seasonal Pacheco Creek still has a strong flow. The oldtimers no longer with us would want to know the CFS (cubic feet per second flowing by). My response is, I have no idea. What I do know is that 2019 could be a pretty good year for us here in San Benito County.

By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County alfalfa, seed crops and grape grower

This has been a wetter than normal spring, with rain coming at least weekly pretty much since the end of January, and our heavy clay soils are extremely difficult to farm without consequences in wet years.

We were lucky that temperatures remained cold through mid-March, keeping perennial crops largely asleep while their feet were saturated at best or actually underwater for up to two weeks at a time. Unfortunately, the wet pattern continues into April and with warmer temperatures, crops like alfalfa have awakened and are now drowning in the most saturated soil.

Wheat looks better than it should, due to selection of a variety that seems to tolerate wet soil conditions better than most. Years like this make us glad we invested in drain tile for our vineyard. While we are largely unable to put tractors in the field, our focus continues to be on disease prevention and insect and weed management, all made more acute and challenging by the wet conditions.

By Greg Gonzalez, Monterey County winegrape grower

Like the rest of the state, Monterey County has had a wet winter. We got upwards of 14 to 18 inches of rain, which is great. It didn't slow down our pruning operations that much. There were enough windows of opportunity to get in there and keep on pace. We started pruning in mid-December and finished up in the second week of March.

Just as we finished pruning, we started seeing our first bud break on our early varieties, such as chardonnay and pinot noir. In the southern end of the valley, we are seeing our vines just getting into bud break. That rain really helped clean the soils and there was plenty of moisture for our vines to really take off.

We are now starting to get into some nice spring weather. We just hope we don't get any late-season frost. We are too far into the season to have that occur.

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