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From the Fields® - January 22, 2020

By Jason Cole, Ventura County avocado and citrus grower

We are just entering the kickoff of busy season for avocados. We lucked out being right around Thanksgiving, we got a series of storms that went from Thanksgiving through Christmas that dumped somewhere between 7 to 10 inches, depending on where you are in the county. So that was obviously very welcomed, with great rain last year, and it was a really good start to our wet season. I'd say the rains were late, but they don't seem to show up in October anymore—it's just kind of become the new normal.

We also lucked out so far where we haven't had any cold snaps in terms of frosts or freezes. We had a couple of chilly nights, but we've only had to fire up the wind machines once, and that was just precautionary.

The last couple of weeks, we've just been knocking down weeds that are popping up. We've been prepping land for this year's tree plantings. We have some expansion plans, so we've been doing land clearing and land prep in preparation for putting some more avocados in the ground.

The fruit is looking really favorable for crop size this year. People are starting to prune some trees, and in the process they're picking fruit. Some guys are starting size picks. Other people are strip-picking because the price is pretty good. It's nice the price is so high right now, because import pressure is kind of shrinking the California avocado market window. It's looking like California's sweet spot is going to be March, April, May, June. July, August, September are going to have some more import pressure from the likes of Chile and primarily Peru.

In December, we were just doing a lot of winter projects, like repairing barns, servicing equipment, employee training for the following year, safety meetings, etc. Hopefully, we'll get some more rain into January, February and March, and then we'll be looking pretty good.

Lemons are looking better than last year, so I'm optimistic. Hopefully optimistic is a good way to put it. Last year, we had a little harsher fall—we had some heat, and even though we got some really good rain, the rains came later. We were picking our lemons just because of heat, and the fruit was ripening up in like November, December. We actually just started harvesting Jan. 10. The fruit's coming off beautifully. Pricing is more favorable than it was last year. It's going to be a lot of fruit. It's going to be a really good crop. The trees are showing a little bit of extra vigor. I think that has to do with all the rain and the leaching of salt that we had happen last year. The winter has been cool but not cold, and so that's also conducive to the trees holding onto fruit a lot longer. We're also getting ready to start our winter-window treatment for ACP sprays in Ventura County.

By John Moore, Kern County diversified grower

It is a busy time in the Arvin area as growers are rolling along with spring carrots and potatoes being planted.

Regarding our tree crops, winter sanitation in almonds and tipping in pistachios is underway. All of our early citrus has been harvested, and southeast valley citrus growers will continue harvesting for the next two months.

We have gotten close to average rainfall and hope to receive more this water year. The Kern Groundwater Authority Umbrella GSP is due by the end of the month, and we are thankful for the coordination of all GSPs for the successful local implementation of SGMA.

By Garrett Patricio , Fresno County melon grower

The 2019 melon season was generally successful with steady supply and above-average pricing for most of the year. Looking ahead to 2020, planting in the southern desert areas is underway and will continue through March. We'll get started planting in the Central Valley around mid-March and should finish up mid-July.

Crop maps will change, but after last year we should have plenty of melon acres grown and harvested this spring and summer. Our biggest challenge continues to be available and willing labor and its effect on foreign and domestic competition. Fewer farmworkers and persistent minimum wage increases put California producers in a precarious position with respect to competitive domestic pricing models.

Assuming fuel prices remain similar, East Coast freight costs will exceed the value of the fruit. This makes competing with Midwestern and Southeastern growers impossible. This also puts more pressure on the West Coast markets, as additional volume is placed locally.

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 melon varieties with full flavor, high brix and sweet aroma. Luckily, we have consumers, seed suppliers and several retail partners looking to address the same product specification concerns.

California continues to offer the highest quality and best melons in the industry, so stay tuned.

By Ray Henriques, Stanislaus County almond grower

Right now, guys are finishing winter sanitation, taking care of the mummy nuts. Also, they're putting on a little bit of dormant spray where needed, getting ready to move bees in for pollination. They'll be moving in probably for the next two to three weeks. Bloom looks like it should be what we would consider normal timing—probably looking at another three weeks or so.

Last year was a good year, a little bit less than in 2018 in our area, but not substantially off.

We're just waiting for the federal water allocation amount. They've yet to come out with a percentage, but we anticipate that probably around March. The presumption right now is that the allotment will be somewhere between 15% and 35%, somewhere in that area. They probably won't finalize our allocation for a few months still, but we're estimating based on the snowpack currently.

We track the chill hours for the trees, and right now it looks like there's an adequate amount of chill hours, so we're anticipating a normal bloom.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Our 2019 harvest is in the tanks and it was another excellent season. Yields were down a bit, but that is actually a good thing because of the large carryover from previous years. But the fruit itself was excellent, thanks to a pleasant growing season.

Harvest is actually an easier time in the vineyard and now the hard work really begins. We have been actively pruning since completion of harvest and the first frost and we tried to get as much done as possible before Jan. 1 when the minimum wage went up. We were fairly successful, but pruning costs continue to be our biggest expense. And as usual, it has been very difficult to find experienced crews to do the pruning.

We can only cut back so much on production costs and we cannot pass the added expense on to the consumer, so it continues to be very challenging. We are also looking at mechanization, but that involves spending money on equipment, so we need to figure out how that is going to work out.

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