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From the Fields® - February 5, 2020

By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyiou County cattle and hay producer

Things are somewhat slow, because it is wintertime and we're kind of in the hope and see that we get enough precipitation and snowpack to make good water, good irrigation for the next season. Right now, we feel we're a little bit dry. I think we're somewhere around 50% of our needs, but there's still a bit of winter left, so we're not worried yet at this point.

One never knows if we're going to have a fabulous February or a miracle March. We kinda don't know at this point, but we always just keep making the best decisions for the conditions and planning and going ahead. We'll probably start with some spring grain planting and such here the next two weeks and start to put out some fertilizer now for alfalfa.

I serve on the local groundwater advisory committee, and we're moving along in the process with that as what's required for being in an intermediate impacted water basin. I think there's just a lot of uncertainty. We have good data that shows our wells don't overdraft. We're maintaining groundwater levels over time, but there are differences from year to year depending on our precipitation. I think there's a lot to be determined.

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

Spring is on the horizon, and with it comes the necesasary groundwork in the field. Hoeing and thinning has been underway in force as the season's first lettuce crop matures. It's incredible to me how much mechanical thinning continues to grow. I swear it's largely a product of ongoing challenges associated with a reliable agricultural workforce.

When it comes to acres planted in the region, most growers I speak with anticipate something similar to last season. Strawberries have taken a beating the last three years and maybe there will be a few hundred acres less.

One thing is for sure: There will be more head lettuce planted than romaine. With as many food safety issues as we've faced, romaine has still not recovered.

One of the biggest issues in the valley is a vote that will come forward on needed dam upgrades and repairs. Stakeholders will need to determine if a per acre cost is based on eight or 30 years. Ultimately, a vote will have to decide.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

At this time of year there is a lot of mummy nut removal going on; a lot of pulling; a lot of tree shaking. It seems like it is becoming a bigger issue here in the North State.

There are quite a few almond orchards being removed, and I think part of it is that there is no longer any co-generation capacity. So, this is delaying a lot of orchard removal. It is usually done right after harvest, but it is actually still going on right now.

We still have pruning harvest going on. We are chipping the brush and leaving it on the soil for decomposition.

We are doing enough work to keep everyone busy. The labor contractor has a smaller crew than normal, and labor is still very tight. I also hired a lot of people to pull the mummy nuts. So, everything is very busy with almond bloom just around the corner. We expect to see bloom around here on the 7th or 10th of February. This is a little earlier than normal. We think it will be more of normal this year.

Our prune crop last year was very heavy as it was an on year. Our almond crop was smaller than usual. The crop came in just a little below our crop insurance level, so we were able to get a little payout, not a lot, but everything helps.

By Jim Durst, Yolo County diversified organic grower

It is late January and finally we are getting a break from the continued wet weather.

Being organic growers, I usually wait to get some rain on my fields before planting winter grain crops. This year the strategy did not work too well. Two months later and we are finally getting a window to plant our winter grains.

I think farmers are trained in the art of adaptation. When working with nature, soils and climate, even the best conceived plans will need to be altered. And I am grateful for the winter rains and cold weather because it hints at a green, bountiful spring just around the corner.

Our cover crops have taken off in the last few weeks and are putting on growth quickly. I am not looking for a repeat of last spring when late rains delayed incorporating cover crops, and they were 6 feet tall by the time the chopper entered the field. Even a 200-horsepower tractor had to creep through this dense foliage, leaving tons of green matter (carbon) on top of the beds to be incorporated.

But we adapted. Choosing priorities and going where we could, we were able to get all vegetables planted on time and ended up with excellent yields.

I have always believed that diversity is expensive. Too many varied types of crops can cost more in equipment, labor, packaging, management, packing and cooling.

But I have also come to believe that in that diversity there is also security. I can still hear my father saying "don't put all your eggs in one basket," and "spread your risk around." Economies and ecologies built upon specialization and monoculture are similar to building a dam on a fault line. Not a matter of if, but when.

And with organic agriculture, the key to success with pest and fertility management is biodiversity. We see it in the natural world and it works. So we try to incorporate that principle wherever the opportunity arises. And I know there will be pitfalls, but they will usually not be devastating.

By Nick Short, Stanislaus County orchardist

2020 has started out to be a good year. We wrapped up last year with beautiful weather and a solid almond harvest. Our main focus right now has been mummy shaking to remove as many of the mummy almonds as we can, to help lower the Navel orangeworm pressure.

We have also been focused on hedging all of our orchards instead of pruning by hand. The weather has been favorable for the most part, which has allowed us to spend more days in the field accomplishing our tasks. With the rainy days, we focus on rebuilding harvest equipment and maintenance on all of our equipment.

We are in the process of redeveloping one block of trees, so we have been focused on removing and grinding the trees. Looking forward, we will be installing new sprinkler systems and planting trees in the next couple months.

Overall in the Central Valley, things are getting off to a good start for the year and we are all hopeful that they continue.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

We have finished up mummy shake for the almonds and getting all the old almonds off the trees. We are currently dormant spraying the almonds to ensure they stay healthy for the final few weeks before bloom. Bees will be moving in shortly within the next few weeks.

We have had plenty of foggy cool mornings with the tule fog rolling in; some rain but mostly just cool weather and fog. We seem to be on track for bloom as normal and anticipate buds to start popping soon.

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