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From the Fields® - March 18, 2020

By Theresa Jeffreys Bright, Colusa County farmer

Pecans bloom later than most orchard crops, so I have a bit of time before the active growing season begins. Tasks for now are mowing and weed management for the tree berms.

As soon as the trees start to bud out, they will have an aerial application of zinc and aphid treatment. Last season, it was hoped an additional aphid spray could be avoided, but then the orchard was invaded by black aphids. This caused many of the trees to defoliate and drop their nuts a bit early, which reduced the quality of some nuts. Aphid treatment early will hopefully get ahead of these nasty pests. There are usually three to four applications of zinc.

The severe windstorm we had last fall damaged some trees, so there is a bit of cleanup work to do before they get leafed out, making it hard to identify which trees need work.

By Dominic Bruno, Yolo County farmer

We have been dealing with the dry weather. For example, we have been irrigating our wheat, which is very unusual at this time of year. Also, we've been getting a lot of groundwork done ahead of schedule, which is very nice

We are getting all of our row crop ground ready for planting. We just finished planting safflower and we are getting ready to plant sunflowers. We haven't touched any rice ground yet. Everything we plant is irrigated.

Overall, we had a pretty good year in 2019, with the exception of a really challenging spring. We didn't get all of our acres planted at rice. Overall, crops did pretty well.

We did have some labor problems. It's pretty competitive to keep good people around driving tractors and doing the jobs that we need to get done.

The coronavirus hasn't affected us yet. Nothing has really trickled down to have a direct effect on the farm yet.

Right now, our water situation looks stable. We are a settlement contractor and we draw our water from the Sacramento River. It's OK now, but that can change if we don't get any precipitation. So, we'll keep our fingers crossed in that regard too.

By Jeff Frey, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

I'm seeing a lot of grapes getting pulled out. We've gotten some rain in the past few days, but we're still in a drought situation down here. We are beginning to see bud break in early varieties: chardonnay and some other early varieties that were pruned early.

But things are just starting to wake up. So, we're just sitting here waiting to get started spraying. Fortunately, labor wasn't too much of a problem during pruning. This pruning season seemed like we had a pretty good labor force available and they were skilled workers, better than the last couple of years.

There were a lot of grapes left hanging on the vine last year, so I bet there are more vineyards that will be pulled because they haven't been pruned. It's tough if you don't have a home for your grapes right now.

There were vineyards that came out in the fall and there are still vineyards coming out right now. A few of them are going back into grapes, mostly by big players that have their own wineries. But a lot of the vineyards are not going to go back for at least another year or so. This is something I am seeing all over the state.

Of course, we're getting a lot of pressure on land for cannabis here in Santa Barbara County. It's causing quite a bit of neighborhood conflict. We do have a few avocados going back in. During the drought, a lot of them got stumped back and now they're coming out again.

I know some citrus is coming out just because they can't get the yields over here that they can get in the Central Valley.

By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

We're kind of in the midst of everything. The almond bloom is a big concern right now. So far, the weather has been close to perfect. The bees have had good temperatures and a lot of flying time and things should be pollinated pretty good. And I would imagine we're going to get through most of it before we see any change in the weather pattern.

After almonds, we do cherries and then a few apples. But also a lot of the bees that are in state now head up to Oregon and Washington for the cherries and apples up there, and then they complete the circuit in the Midwest.

The bees came through the winter with quite a bit of mortality, but it came out OK. Once we get through the pollination period, we'll reevaluate that a little bit more. But normally when they go in good they come out great.

We've seen a few reports of hive theft and every year it seems to get worse. There was a beekeeper between Galt and Lodi that had some hives stolen three weeks ago. We were all made aware of that. So, every year it happens. And I would imagine in some areas that it's happening more than others. People are out there stealing almost everything that is connected with an agricultural operation, such as irrigation pumps. It's a big problem in agriculture, that's for sure.

By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County farmer

Prune bloom is underway—well advanced, about two weeks ahead of normal due to February's rainless, warm weather. Flower counts appear normal and temperatures are within a reasonable range to produce a good crop.

Offseason meetings and conferences are wrapping up. We're bracing for more challenges from all sides: government regulation, taxation, labor and trade, making for a tremendous amount of uncertainty among all tree crop growers as we weigh options to replace aging orchards.

Soil replant disorders make planting the same species (e.g., walnuts after walnuts) very risky, so growers are searching for profitable options within their expertise.

The strong dollar is weighing on export prices. On the good side, the sudden slide in oil and gas prices will produce lower fuel prices, already refected in diesel deliveries. In addition, we can expect lower nitrogen prices, as natural gas is a primary energy source in its production.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County farmer

Regarding irrigation, we have been allocated 15% in Westlands this dry year. Kings River water may not be available either. What this means for us annd other Westlands growers is that there will be considerable fallowing of fields.

As far as what is going on right now, we are currectly transplanting our processing tomatoes. And since we are facing a dry year, we have been irrigating our garlic more aggressively than u sual.

Our garbanzo crop is also being irrigated because of the dry weather. Our garbanzo stand looks good.

As far as tree crops, our almonds are now in post-bloom and we are optimistic because of the good pollination weather.

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