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From the Fields® - February 19, 2020

By Shaun Crook, Tuolumne County forester

This winter feels like Groundhog Day. There has been just enough clear weather that some loggers are still in the woods, yet, depending on soil conditions and elevation, some have moved their equipment home for much needed winter maintenance.

We are working on an emergency contract removing fire-killed brush and timber that could fall on a state highway. Weather hasn't stopped us, but the flip side of still working is that we are behind on our winter maintenance.

Most ranchers here calve in the fall and it is officially branding season. Just about every Saturday, you can find whiskey on the fence post and oysters on the grill! We still have our fingers crossed for more rain. These temperatures are good for growing grass, but if too much time passes between storms, there won't be much of a grass crop to sustain cattle into next fall.

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape gower

We have had extremes of both hot and cold weather. So, we’re in a situation where we don’t know if we’re coming or going here. Right now, it’s like 70 degrees out. Then, in the last week or so it was down into the mid-20s in the mornings. So, it’s just a strange year for weather and no rain.

We need these cold mornings to keep those vines asleep, which we’re kind of getting around the freezing mark in the morning. But these warm days are just going to push the vines much closer to bud break, and we’re not ready for that. So, the vines don’t know if they’re coming or going. Bud break is when we’re vulnerable to the springtime frost. We’ve been pretty lucky in recent years and have avoided springtime frost. We haven’t had a lot, knock on wood.

Right now, we’re finishing up pruning. We are now beginning to think about applying irrigation for them because we haven’t had a lot of precipiation. Our rain has stopped and there’s none forecast for the next two to three weeks. And so I think you will see growers beginning to turn on both drip lines and sprinklers to build up that soil profile for the vines.

We have had some vines that have been taken out that are in the 25-year-old range that are tired from viruses and things. They’re not being put right back in because of market pressure. So, I think that overall the grape acreage has gone down a little bit here on the Central Coast. There’s not a lot of new plantings and I think overall we’re probably down. I don’t know what the percentage would be, but we are down in overall acres.

I think that growers are looking at the stuff that’s coming out and just letting it remain fallow while they keep an eye on the market. They’ll try to figure out when that window of opportunity is that they’ll be able to get a great contract and sell that fruit. There’s not really an alternative crop here. Pistachios or lemons or almonds or something like that just don’t work here.

Chardonnay and pinot noir are the biggest workhorses here on the Central Coast, and chardonnay by far is the biggest.

By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County farmer

It is too warm and dry.

On the citrus side for the south San Joaquin Valley, 2020 is starting to look eerily similar to 2019. Export movement is slow, which again is overloading the domestic market. This is resulting in lower prices across the board and fruit isn't getting picked as quickly as some growers would like. Fortunately, fruit quality looks better.

We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for lemon and Washington navel harvests. Size seems to be good in late navel varieties and Valencias for this time of the year. Let's hope we get some help on the export side for the latter.

Along with the unusually warm, dry winter, comes an early spring and bloom. Our young almonds have just been pruned and it looks like just in the nick of time. Blossom formation looks to be near in our region, if not knocking on the door. I see beehives are starting to be placed and early fungicide applications have begun.

Our olives will be pruned soon, and we will wait to see what Mother Nature brings us for this year's crop. This year is destined to be an off year due to 2019's bountiful crop. Costs will be heavily managed to offset the off year, but groves will be sustainably maintained.

North Coast winegrape pruning is winding down. Tying is following in our cane-pruned vineyards and pre-emergent applications are taking place. Finding homes for unsold grapes is proving to be very difficult. Winery consolidation and a sluggish wine market are giving grape and wine buyers the upper hand. Prices have slid backwards significantly, if a buyer can even be brought to the table.

In the wonderful world of SGMA, our region's GSAs have submitted GSPs to DWR. We're awaiting GSP approval from DWR, which is anticipated to take two years. The next five years, there is going to be a lot of heavy lifting now that plans are in place.

Pray for rain and snow!

By Bruce Rominger, Yolo County grower

In the processing tomato industry, we are still talking to all our processors about exact tonnages, planting windows and contracts. Some of them are finalized, some of them aren't. But we are putting seed in greenhouses as every year starts. We are hoping for good planting conditions, a good growing season. But as we've seen in previous years, Mother Nature always makes that decision for us. If you look at the hail last year, if you look at rain we've had during planting and other years that causes the diseases—every year is exciting and different.

We're getting prepped to have bees on our almond orchards. So that's another issue. You know, you'll look at the weather that second half of February where we are, and hope you have great pollination weather. That's the key thing in the almond crop for where we are.

And the other thing I'd like to say is, we're constantly battling in all of these crops our increasing costs of production. In the tree crops we don't have as much labor, so it's not affected as much. Things like processing tomatoes, where we have a significant amount of labor, especially in transplanting, but also in harvesting—it's a struggle to keep those crops profitable.

By Tom Chandler, Fresno County farmer

Our almond orchards are right around the corner for blooming. So, bees are going out now. This bloom year is slightly later than last year, by a about a week.

Our citrus harvest season is more than halfway complete. The crop was bigger than expected this year. We were not expecting much because of how big and how late last year's crop was for us. Overall, this year's citrus crop in our area has been down from last year, but much more in line with demand. Pricing for our mandarins has been good and steady all year. Thankfully, not as much citrus came from out of the country this year to mess things up. Thank God that our harvest weather for citrus has been excellent, with very few frost events.

We are going to start pruning our winegrapes soon. This year we are going to try mechanically pruning them in order to cut back on expenses.

Our surface water supplies from our local irrigation district are currently holding enough water in the reservoir to be about 70% of capacity. So, more snowpack in our watershed area is still much needed.

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