From the Fields® - November 6, 2019

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

Harvest is winding down and we sure had great weather for harvest. Not having any rain during harvest never happens; we always have some. However, Mother Nature did give us plenty of north wind. Since we had such nice conditions, it seems as most people are finishing earlier than in years past.

The walnut crop has mostly been harvested. Early varieties produced less than expected, while the Chandlers' variety has been average. Our quality in the early varieties also was not as good as we had hoped for, while the Chandlers' quality looks to be really good.

Demand for California walnuts is high and we will not have any problems marketing this year's crop. We are also happy to see an increase in price, up over last year's market lows. I continue to be hopeful our trade issues with China and other countries will soon be resolved.

With harvest winding down, we begin to look toward the winter tasks: pruning, strip sprays, equipment repairs and continuing education. The holidays are just around the corner and I look forward to getting together with family and friends after a long harvest season.

By Aaron Lange, San Joaquin County winegape grower

The Lodi region winegrape harvest is 99% complete, and although growers have enjoyed a long, warm fall, we have not enjoyed sustainable offers for grapes out of contract in 2019. Spot market pricing was low and in many cases, red blenders like zinfandel, petite sirah, petit verdot and teroldego had no buyers at any price.

Despite some vineyards being unharvested and facing the bulldozer, the quality of the 2019 crop looks excellent. The first look at our own yields look to be a little below average in Lodi, but better on the east side of the appellation.

The oversupply of winegrapes and wine inventory is a statewide phenomenon, and I've talked to many growers here and in other regions who are taking the opportunity to evaluate each vineyard block's marketability, virus and disease status, and recent performance to identify candidates for removal for fallowing or a crop change.

On the bright side, the holidays are coming—let's promote California wine and California ag products with every meal.

By Jason Smith, Monterey County winegrape grower

It's been quite the year in the winegrape business: markets, power, Mother Nature, all bringing challenges to an already challenging business of farming.

The winegrape harvest is stretching into the first part of November this year for the first time in a while. This is consistent with the fact that we have been about 2-3 weeks behind normal weather for ripening all year.

The recent fires and power outages have added to the delays to the finish line. Whether wineries or roads were actually closed or no power, the ultimate answer is to wait and see. We are grateful that we didn't have fires and not a lot of power outages in Monterey County, but the effects around the state still hit home.

The crop itself was average and the market for any fruit that wasn't already contracted was minimal if at all. There are grapes that can still be found on the vine as harvest comes to an end, and it's going to take a while to sort out what 2020 has in store for the winegrape industry.

In the end we are resilient, smart and creative and will make tough decisions to get us to the next year. We are blessed to be part of the farming culture and way of life and will continue to fight to make this a sustainable way of life.

By Joe Ferrari, San Joaquin County walnut grower

We are now in the middle of a ramped-up walnut harvest as the transition from earlier varieties to Chandlers has already occurred.

Amid reports of a lighter crop given to me by both processors and growers, I am especially noticing an overall dip in production numbers at my huller. Chandlers appear to be off at least 15% statewide. Other varieties drop at least as far as 20% to 30%. This should lead to a favorable across-the-board price adjustment.

With regard to weather, we are fortunate to have dodged the dreaded four-letter "r" word so far. Wet soil conditions can cause breakdowns and expensive repairs—slowing down crop retrieval and making harvesting and hulling an October nightmare. Let's hope it holds.

We have been operating uninterrupted, with incessant early morning and late night shifts at the huller, which can take a toll on you after a while. However, I keep reminding myself how I will spend November: sitting back and finalizing harvest paperwork at a much slower pace, finally in peace.

By Peter Culhane, Los Angeles County olive grower

We had a good olive harvest. I always say it is the power of prayer. We have a marine layer and the sun. It was a good year, not an exceptional one. We actually were judged the best olive oil in the state a few years ago, and that was a blind taste test. We are 100% organic and we press within 12 hours of picking. That's the key to getting an extra virgin olive oil.

We are a small, mom and pop operation and we've been doing it for 15 years. And it is terrific. My wife's name is Fontanella, so it is Fontanella Olive Oil. Her father was born in Italy, so we named it after her.

We have been blessed that we were spared from the fires. The flames came close, but we were fortunate. We live in a canyon, with one way in and one way out. There was a fire along the road a week or so ago. The firefighters came with their planes and their helicopters and their men. It was just shocking. It was something that you see on television, but it was amazing to see it right on our road. They did a great job.

I have gone to some fire preparedness seminars. They are so well done and so well attended and very informative. As a result, we do a lot of fire prevention work at our ranch and we are totally into clearance. So, our grove is impeccable and well maintained.

We sell our olive oil to a private restaurant chain in Santa Monica. We don't bottle it. We put it into five-gallon jugs, which are restaurant containers. They use it to make their bread, and our olive oil appears on one of their menus. We bottle the remaining olive oil and send it to local stores in the area. It sells off the shelf. We don't have thousands of bottles, so we sell to four or five stores. One is in Malibu, another in Brentwood and Beverly Hills and a couple other locations.

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