From the Fields® - August 7, 2019

By Tod Kimmelshue, Butte County nut grower

There is a heavy walnut crop this year. We have had good weather without it being excessively hot, so the quality of the walnuts hasn't been affected at this point in time. Because of the heavy rains and snow this past winter, we have an abundance of water, so this isn't an issue this year, either.

We are looking to have a good crop of walnuts in Butte County and throughout California north of Sacramento. The crop is on schedule to where it is supposed to be. All is well and there have not been any significant pest or disease problems. We are looking for a good, high quality crop. Harvest usually begins in late September and into October, depending on the variety.

We are a little concerned about the markets. The price is obviously depressed for several reasons, mostly due to oversupply. But also, the tariffs have hurt us.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

After difficult market conditions in 2018 and an incredibly wet winter, the melon industry looks ahead to a better 2019.

After a slow start with smaller than normal sizing and an extended spring desert deal, melon production seems to have steadied in Central California. Production numbers are down some and lower than normal, but erratic spring weather played a part. Just as the weather normalized in late May, we'll see more consistent supplies and yields as late August rolls around.

Market conditions are good and demand has been steady, but with a more limited supply, the general consensus is that pricing should be better.

Available labor hasn't yet presented a challenge, but we are learning to do more with less, or in some cases less with less, given the repercussions of a reduced ag workweek and wages 8-10% higher than minimum wage. These direct increases in the cost and effectiveness of production make the horizon for hand-harvested crops look bleak. If you add in the freight advantage, foreign and domestic competition around the country will continue to pose a challenge.

Melons have always been a strong bulk summer commodity, but shrinking shelf space and longer shelf-life melons have the industry concerned. We have focused intently upon offering better and more consistent varieties with full flavor, high brix and sweet aroma. Hopefully, this combination will induce consumers to "Buy California" more frequently and in greater quantities.

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape and pear grower

Everyone is getting ready for pear harvest that will kick off next week. And right behind that will be sparkling winegrapes, probably in about three weeks. Yields look good, especially on the pears. The pears have good size and quality. It is the same with the grapes. Everything is very clean, no pest or disease issues to deal with this year. We have had really nice weather for ripening. We have had really mild, dry conditions.

Markets aren't very strong, but hopefully everyone will get things picked and find a home for their fruit. We are about half machine-harvested and half hand-picked. Labor is always a concern, but it does seem that more labor is around now than in previous years, so that is a good thing.

There is always the potential for fires and of course it is a major concern for grape growers because of the potential for smoke taint. This is definitely on the minds of everyone as it gets drier and drier. For pear harvest, the main concern is the ability to deliver the pears. There is a very short harvest window of about two weeks to complete harvest and after that if you miss that window, the pears aren't worth anything. So, if there are road closures or power outages the pear guys can get nailed.

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

We have had a cool summer with dreary, foggy weather. It has been a tough year for winegrapes with the mildew threat until lately, when we got some warm weather. The cool weather really puts pressure on the growers to control mildew. That's the big thing down here right now.

The crop looks to be average to light in some areas. Chardonnay is average and pinot noir is light, which is not a bad thing given how much wine there is currently on the market.

We are about two weeks behind harvest from last year, so I think we will start around the 10th of September. It is hard to say whether there will be homes for all the fruit. Right now, the wineries aren't looking for any fruit and I think they will wait until they see what kind of harvest we have before they make any moves to buy fruit. It is very tough for growers who don't have contracts for their grapes. I think they are holding their breath.

Labor is about the same as it has been. It is tight, but we seem to get by. Half of our grapes are machine-picked and the other half is hand-harvested. Water hasn't been an issue this year, with levels holding up thanks to all of the rain we received earlier in the year.

By Chris Lange, Tulare County olive and citrus grower

Bell Carter Olive dropped the bomb on the majority of their table olive growers who were under contract. Fortunately, Musco Family Olive Co. stepped in and offered contracts to those growers who were planning on staying long-term. We have already invested in this crop that will be harvested in 2019. We've done olive fruit fly bait, fertilizing, pruning and we've lined up the crews for harvest in September. The harvest period is only about two months.

We have plenty of water for our 2019 irrigation needs. Unfortunately, Southern California Edison has restricted power deliveries to our booster pumps. Water is available, but getting it to the orchards is a big problem. Edison is saying that these panels require more allocation than we are entitled to.

We upgraded our electrical panels to be more efficient, but Edison came out and said the panels are too big and can't deliver the power requirement that we want and need; therefore, we are going to cut back the power usage. So we are downgrading our power panels, going back to the old style.

As farmers, we can't have pumps shutting off, particularly booster pumps, which are critical to get the water from point A to point B.

As for other crops, citrus prices were lower in 2018-19 than 2017-18, even with production being up. Crop estimates for 2019-20 are up again for all citrus varieties.

Beef cattle herds look great. Beef prices are not as strong as desired. Rangeland feed may be the very best in a long time.

Hope springs eternal.

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