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From the Fields® - June 17, 2020

By Kulwant Johl, Yuba-Sutter County tree crop farmer

We are thinning peaches. That's hand thinning. The crop is very heavy. Peaches usually set heavy. The crop looks very good. We're spraying for the Oriental fruit moth and peach tree borer.

With peaches, we only have two canneries here and most of the farmers have contracts. The price is not set yet, but it should be in the next couple of months. The peach price has been OK.

The prune crop is very light in the area. I don't know why. We thought we had good weather, so I don't know why we have a light crop. I hope that will improve prices.

With walnuts and almonds, we're irrigating and monitoring the bugs and diseases.

For walnuts, the crop looks very good. We sprayed just before the rain for walnut blight. Walnut prices are down because right now we don't have any exports or very low exports. They haven't come out with a statewide estimate yet, but I think the crop looks good.

The almond crop is very heavy statewide—3 billion pounds of crop. It's a record crop. The almond price came way down. With exports not really moving right now, that will bring the price down. I hope it doesn't bring the price down more.

Peaches, prunes, walnuts and almonds—people are buying these things (during the pandemic) because people are staying home.

We've had good weather up to now. It's not too hot. The heat has been OK. Usually, it's only a couple of days, so no concerns. Things are going good.

By Lee McCorkle, Glenn County rice, alfalfa and olive grower

I have three different plantings (of rice). The earliest I ever planted was this year, around April 25. The second (planting) was about five days after that. The third one was about May 10. On average, it was all planted a week or 10 days earlier than normal.

We've had good weather, so we have a good stand and the crop looks really good. We have done spraying for some of the weeds already. It looks like we're going to get really good weed control. The weather is holding good for us. We should get a pretty nice crop of rice this year.

We also grow olives for oil. Last year, we had about 6 tons per acre, which was pretty nice, a little above average. But this year it's not going to be very much, if we even harvest. It's partly because olives are alternate bearing.

We had to do some severe machine pruning on the trees, and we just finished doing that. The trees had a top on them that got too big and we needed to get some more light down into the trees a little better. The idea is to cut the tops back to get some new wood up there and get some better light down a little lower in the tree. By reshaping the trees, we're hoping in a year or two they'll come out with some new growth and get some fruit wood on there.

In years coming, we're hoping to get them producing pretty well again. I can see new growth already there. With the alternate bearing, this was a good year to do it because they probably weren't going to have very many olives anyway.

We also grow about 300 acres of irrigated alfalfa hay. One of my sons is a hay broker, so he's buying and selling hay all the time. He sells a good percentage of it to feed stores. We're making hay now with our second cutting. The crop looks fine. It's doing quite well. My son is able to get a little more money from the feed stores. We try to grow what the feed stores want.

What we raise is just a small part of what we deal with. We also buy and sell hay from other growers. We match the hay to what individual buyers are looking for. For example, horses take specialized hay—not straight alfalfa; they like some grass in it. There's also milking-cow hay and there's the young cattle hay before they become milking cows.

By Thomas Chandler, Fresno County farmer

We are just starting to pick our June Flame peaches this week, which is our first variety of stone fruit.

Most peach growers in our area had a slightly later bloom, but then harvest time got sped up because of the recent high-temperature days. As a result, the size of the fruit is smaller this year and retailers are pushing back on wanting to take the smaller fruit.

The plum crop set lighter this year in our area and the fruit sizes are good. So, the market for plums is very good.

Labor this year has been available, but it is tighter than normal, which makes us nervous.

Our winegrapes appear to have an average crop size. We are going to do whatever it takes to ensure quality this year, because the market for California winegrapes has been oversupplied the past few years due to cheap imports coming into our market. This year, however, we are hoping that trend has reversed because sales of lower-price-point wines have been dramatically increasing during this stay-at-home period, with more buying at the grocery stores. I've heard box wine sales are way up.

As for almonds, we have a large crop coming on our pollinator varieties, as everyone else in our area.

By Mike Jani, Mendocino and Humboldt counties forester

In terms of what is going on in the forest sector, we were fortunate in a way, because we were designated as a critical piece of infrastructure, which allowed us to keep our businesses and our doors open (during the pandemic). I think everybody in the business made adjustments out of concern of where this could go, because there was so little understanding of what the economic impacts of it were going to be, and in order to make sure that our employees who were working were going to be able to work safely.

There were some very necessary inventory adjustments. We went into last winter with pretty large log inventories. The focus was on managing log and lumber inventories.

Of late, markets have sprung back to life through the home centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot. So material is moving. We took some downtime in our sawmills, but we now are back and running full time.

I think everybody is continuing to just watch the day-to-day signs of where we’re headed in the future. I think every business is waiting to see if further adjustments are going to be necessary. That’s the atmosphere, not only through the forest sector but the ag sector and merchandizing sectors—in a kind of holding pattern but in business and working.

Normally in the redwood region during the wintertime, we don’t do a lot of logging, for water-quality reasons primarily and fisheries protections. This is always during the startup part of early spring. People are starting to get back to work. We had some unusual late rains that created a slow start to our logging season. But that also was a time when we were watching our log inventories and that probably would have happened anyway until we were able to eat through inventories. Now, everybody is back to work and logs are starting to move around in the region. Small, private landowners are starting to think about selling logs.

Log prices fell off at the end of last year. I don’t think there’s going to be tremendous movement in the log market because of this watch and wait, but we are purchasing logs and bringing logs in off of our own property in our normal pace. Guys that were out in the woods are now out full time and operating. All of our operators are busy.

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