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From the Fields® - March 4, 2020

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County farmer

February is the new spring. There are decisions that have to be made. Do we start irrigating or wait for the March rains?

In the meantime, we had plenty of time to get our mid- and late-winter cultural tasks done. Weeds were sprayed and are now a pretty yellow-gold color. The Roundup PowerMAX did its postemergence job.

But we also included a pre-emergence material that needs to be set by a moderate rain within about three weeks of application. This stops spring emerging weed seed from germinating. Without the rainfall, the material sits on top of the ground and dissipates from not being protected in the top inch of the soil, and it also needs to be closer to the seed. So, we might be saying hello to the spring weeds that dodged the bullet.

I was concerned that I would not find a grape pruning crew in early February, but we did. I had asked for experienced pruners and it turned out most had never pruned before. But we got them trained and they did a nice job. We left four fewer spurs on the malbec and two fewer on the cabernet compared to the last two years.

It's a young vineyard and I'm still figuring out its crop-setting tendencies. We are looking to have a lighter crop set to avoid the cost of fruit dropping this summer. We spent a lot of time and dollars dropping fruit the last two seasons.

The risk in pruning to achieve the crop size you want without having to drop fruit is that with the wrong spring weather you can end up with a short crop. But maybe that would be OK too, given our wine inventory being greater than we would prefer. That glut of inventory you may have heard about is real. Significant bearing acreage of grapes locally, statewide and globally, along with competition from other beverages diluting sales of wine, are a big part of the problem. So that light crop in 2020 might be an OK thing.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County grower

It's too early to say what the bloom is going to look like, but right now it looks favorable. We had what we think is going to be adequate chill over the winter. I'm a little concerned about lack of rainfall. We did have to irrigate these last couple of weeks, it being so dry. This is not something we typically do at this time of year. So that's a real concern. We are kind of at that point where we're all just guessing as to what to expect.

Cherry harvest is going to be late this year; normally, it begins around May 3 to 5. I would say the peak harvest will be around the 15th to the 25th, and by June 1 it's going to be close to done.

It is too early to say whether I will have labor problems this year. Typically for cherries, there are people around. But every year is a new year. I think about that almost every night, not knowing what's going to happen.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery operator

Cool temperatures and periodic overcast, rainy weather over the last month or so has our container plants growing in fits and starts. And recent below-freezing temperatures required we turn on micro-sprinklers to protect our sensitive varieties from damage. The next morning these plants were encased in ice, which looked like a disaster, but did a good job of insulating them with no damage or loss.

On a positive note, a nice side benefit of the cold weather is reduced insect pest pressure. I wish I could say the same for the rodent population that has exploded the last few years, as much appreciated spring rains have fueled plenty of vegetation for them. Unfortunately, they seem to like our newly planted seeds in containers more than the outdoor weeds.

All in all, we are looking forward to a good spring sales season as there appears to be much pent-up demand to get out and plant a spark of color in the landscape and add warmth and life to a room with houseplants.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

It's very strange—I could have tractors working ground right now, even though there is still nearly a month left of winter. That's an unusual situation for most rice growers, who for the most part farm poorly drained soils that stay wet for a long time after the rain stops. But this year the rain stopped before February even began, and that fact, along with a month of warmer than average temperatures and many days of breezy north winds, has led to fields drying out much earlier than usual.

This lack of rain, along with a Sierra snowpack below average for the time of year, is of course very much on all farmers' minds from the standpoint of: How will this affect our water supply for the 2020 growing season?

On the positive side, however, is the fact that we had a very wet winter last year and many of the state's reservoirs, Shasta in particular, are near or even above normal for this time of year. Plus, there is still plenty of time for the rains to resume and get us more caught up with a "normal" year. Heck, it didn't stop raining until late May last year.

But that, of course, caused a different kind of problem—I hope we don't have to go through another planting season like that again any time soon.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County farmer

The winter started off looking like it was going to be a wet one, but things stayed relatively dry for most of December and January in Stanislaus County. We did get more cold weather and fog than we have had in the past few years. Most growers in the area said the fog and cold weather made it feel like "a normal valley winter. Hopefully, it results in adequate chilling and dormancy for the trees.

Buds on the almond trees are swelling with a few blossoms popping open on the Sonoras, Shastas and Fritz trees. Most of the almond orchards in our area are pretty white with a lot of flowers. The bees have all been moved into our almond orchards and the hives look healthy and in good shape. The forecast looks like we should have good weather for them to go work and hopefully set a good almond crop for 2020.

We are starting to see some buds swelling on some of the early apricots, but it's still pretty early to have much of an idea of what the apricot bloom will look like this year. With the dry weather, we have started irrigating in most of the orchards, doing some preseason maintenance and getting some moisture in the root zone to help flush some of the salt buildup.

Our employees are not thrilled about having their work hours reduced, as the ag overtime rules continue to reduce the number of hours they can work in a week.

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