From the Fields® - May 1, 2019

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County hay and grain farmer

I'm a little over normal on rainfall this year—13½ inches. My normal is about 12. My crops look good. I'm going to be cutting my hay this week. It's grain hay, a barley-oat mix. I dry-farm, so I just rely on rainfall. Hay is my money maker—hay for the horse market. It looks pretty good, but I never know until I start cutting and baling it. But it looks better than it has in eight years. The last good crop I had was in 2011. Two years ago, it was pretty close to normal, maybe a little bit below, but this one is going to be above normal for a change. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come. I had basically seven years of drought. It's looking promising.

Boy, do I have an abundance of wildflowers this year. I've lived here my whole life and I don't think I've seen a year as thick as they were this year and as abundant. They're mainly poppies. There are other wildflowers too, but poppies were totally abundant this year. They're finally starting to dry up now in the south slopes. Last week was in the upper 80s, so it was wilting them. But it's been going since mid-March. For weeks, it's just been outrageous. I'm about two miles from the poppy park. Don't even bother to come look on a weekend because it's just packed. We were counting 20 cars a minute going by, and that's all day. I can't even get off my driveway. It's just stopped from past my place, probably about two to three miles from the poppy park. It's because the flowers are so outrageous. You've heard of the superbloom. Well, it was totally that way.

It hasn't really affected my work too much because I'm out in the field, not out on the roads. I just learned to deal with it. What I should do is open up a little museum and café here and take advantage of it. But I kind of like being by myself. There were people taking advantage of it. There were food trucks by the sides of the roads.

I also do a little grain, but it's basically for seed for next year's crop. I don't really sell any of that. I might feed a little bit for my cows, but I don't have many cows anymore, so I don't really use much of that. I just have six head, so I keep them in my feedlots.

I'll be busy here for a couple of months, trying to bring all my hay in. This is my work time of year. I always lose 10 to 15 pounds and shed that winter weight. I love growing hay. I have a huge client base that depends on me for getting hay because dry-farm hay is so much sweeter than irrigated hay. When it's grown under dryland conditions, the plants start stressing, so I think it puts sugars into the plant. With some of my customers, if they know I don't have much, they don't tell anybody because they don't want their supply to be in jeopardy. I have some guys who complain that their horses eat it too fast.

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County almond, pistachio, olive and cherry farmer

I'm spraying my almonds—putting on a miticide, some foliar fertilizer, fungicide and navel orangeworm spray. It's all one big mix. Everything is pretty sized as far as the nut inside the hull. They're pretty much in full gel stage. They haven't started to harden and create the actual nutmeat, so the trees are really heavy; there's a lot of water content in it. I'm also putting some potassium on. It's all through the drip. We had some potassium going in as a foliar spray also. We're spraying for weeds, trying to get the floors cleaned up. As soon as that gel gets firm and turns into the actual nut, then the weight on those limbs will lift and come up. That's when we'll go in to prep the floors to get ready for harvest.

Everything out there looks pretty darn good. I think the crop is going to be a good one. The last estimate I saw (for the state) was maybe 2.5 billion (pounds). I don't think we'll have any trouble hitting that. From stuff I've looked at locally and around my area, it looks really good.

I've got one variety that I've been working on for a little time. It's the Shasta variety and it's relatively new. They've got a load on them like I've never seen—it's mind-blowing. It's a nonpareil type. I don't know yet if they'll be marketed as a nonpareil type or a Carmel type. There's just not enough out in the marketplace. They're that new. It does have a self-pollinating feature to it. They harvest easy; they shake real easy. The kernel size is enormous.

With the olives, which are for oil, we just did some hedging and topping, because they're high-density plantings and mechanically harvested. They're just now starting their bloom stage, so we put a coppercide on there. It helps heal where the hedger cuts are so you don't get infection in the cut. We farm organic, so we don't put anything other than an organic material out.

We're finishing up a spray of pistachios—some fungicide and foliars. The trees are flowering right now. My fields are synced—in other words, the male tree and the female tree look to be right on time as far as togetherness, so the pollen from the male is going to move through the wind. The bees don't really work on that. The wind will pollinate the female tree and the female trees look to have a nice set. The male tree does not set nuts in a pistachio tree, just the female tree. The set on the female trees—at least the number of flowers and clusters that we see out there—looks pretty darn good. We're excited about that.

My cherries are just coming into color. They call it a straw color, and they'll gradually start to put some reddish tone to it. Last weekend, I applied some materials called gib, which helps firm up the berries. Last year, I escaped the frost and my trees were loaded. But when they're loaded that heavy, they tend not to size. I've gotten a crop off those trees for three years. I only have 13 acres. The first crop I got, it got rained on right when they were ready to harvest and (the fruit) split. So that was a bummer. The second year they set, but they didn't set hardly at all. The third year, which would've been 2018, they set big, but the berry size was on the small side. So I lost money two years in a row, made money on the third year, and now I'm back to even. This fourth year, we'll make a little bit of something and I'll get back on the black side of the ledger. Where I have these particular trees planted, I have to keep them short because they're running beneath some power lines, so I have to grow them a little differently. I've got three varieties: Brooks, Tulare and Coral. They'll be ready to pick in about a week.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Here in San Joaquin County and all over the state, we went from winter right into summer. Everyone is now getting caught up after the earlier delays caused by all of the rain that we got. When everything is all said and done, we will get it all done.

As far as the vines go, they look to be normal. For a few years it seemed like we were earlier than normal, but now it looks like we are back on track. We had a normal bud break and the shoots are growing rapidly now because of the warm weather and the amount of moisture that's in the ground.

As far as labor is concerned, we got through pruning OK. And now we are going into suckering. We have shifted more and more into chemical suckering and mechanical suckering to reduce costs and ease our need for labor. When we are doing suckering, we are competing with the cherry crop. We don't have that problem with pruning.

We ship to all different outlets. It gives us the opportunity to have some flexibility.

We also grow some cherries. During bloom, the weather wasn't ideal. But it looks like we have a nice crop. We also grow some almonds. They are relatively young, but it looks like they have a nice crop. But there is a long way to go before harvest.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County cherry and apple grower

Cherries have finished blooming and fruit set looks to be very good, with even some hand thinning taking place in the Rainer and Tulare varieties. We are about seven days later than last season, anticipating harvest to begin around May 5-7.

This year's apple season looks to be off to a good start with a very healthy and, for California, a compact bloom. Chemical thinning is just being completed and we anticipate hand thinning to begin in the next 10 days. Early fruit counts would indicate an above average crop in Gala and just average for Granny Smith.

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