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From the Fields® - July 22, 2020

By Ron Kelley, Sacramento County vegetable and fruit farmer

I'm getting ready to open up my farm for U-pick under all these COVID-19 guidelines and utilize my new website. I've always had a website, but this is a new one where you can order and pay, and then you come out and we do curbside delivery.

For the U-pick, they have to get a reservation so that I can control the amount of people in the field at the same time. Plus, they have to maintain social distancing, and if they can't, then they have to wear a mask. Upon arrival, they have to sanitize their hands, and on departure, they have to sanitize their hands. I take 10 people at a time out (to the field) instead of 20. In past years, I would have 40 to 50 people in the field, kids running out there. Well, I can't have that anymore. I just can't take the chance.

I used to be open five days a week. Right now, I'm down to just one day a week for in-store shopping; that's my farm stand. I think I'm going to have to go to at least two days of in-store shopping, two days of online pickup and four days of U-pick. I'm just trying to cut down the contact.

With my farm stand, I used to have plastic bins and containers. People could walk around, go over and select what they want out of the bins. Well, they no longer can do that. I have it set up more like at the farmers market, and have a tape so they can't touch the stuff. Once they come inside the building, I'm only allowing the passengers in one car at a time in the building. They stay on one side of the tape, they point out what they want, we put it in a bag or a little basket, they pay with a credit card and we let the next customers in.

I hope the U-pick is not going to be affected by the COVID. I hope the fact that they have to get a reservation isn't going to deter them from coming to the farm and going out and picking.

Fortunately, I have a niche market on the black-eyed beans, crowder beans and purple hull beans. There's not a lot of places they can go to get that. It's just whether they want to go through the process of learning how to get their reservations online or I've got to hire another person to take the reservations by hand.

The crops look good. That last stretch of hot weather made my melons ripen up faster, and they all became ripe at one time, so I had a large supply. But I was fortunate enough to get rid of them through a couple of programs. One of them is with the Asian Resource Center. They let me know they had a program where they could buy certain things from farmers. It seems to be going OK so far. They quoted me a price and it's pretty close to or right at market price. My regular supplier isn't taking quite as much because the restaurants aren't using quite as much. This year (wholesale) is down at least a third to 40%.

By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County farmer

2020 started off with a lot of unknowns: water, domestic and export market conditions, labor and now with COVID-19, the future is even more uncertain.

There seems to be a lot of variation in citrus fruit size, most likely due to a long and drawn-out bloom. The spring rains helped everyone short term and the increases in water flow helped, but we need more consistency from our surface water resources.

Citrus movement has improved from last year. We are finished with navels, and Valencia harvest looks to be coming to an end soon.

2021 citrus fruit quality looks good at this point and we are through fruit drop, so our focus is on getting next year's crop ready for market.

Olive bloom was light and fruit set looks to be off, but time will tell what, if any, fruit will be left to harvest.

With word coming down from USDA that California's almond crop is estimated to be a record 3 billion pounds for 2020, market conditions, and oh yeah, the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings, looking forward to our first almond harvest in 2021 is already forcing us to plan ahead for what looks to be a "belt cinching" year or two.

By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay and grain grower

It is very dry. These are driest drought conditions that I have ever faced in my career of production agriculture.

We've had struggles all year, from the end of January until May. We never cumulatively had an inch of rain when normally we should have had numerous inches of rain. We had very little snow. Our groundwater basin is reliant on snowpack and runoff throughout spring and summer to sustain our water levels—and when there's no snow to melt, there's no water.

Our production is definitely going to suffer due to that. We've had water problems developing with depleted wells in April that normally don't have an issue all year. We are not in an area that overdrafts; we recharge normally every year, if we have any bits of normalcy in our precipitation, and we just didn't have it at all this year.

Most of our crops are perennial crops, and our cropping decisions are primarily made in October through January, so we made those decisions before we knew what our current water situation would be. We kind of have to pick our hand that we're going to play and then go long-term with it. We always rotate a small number of acres out of hay every year and do some other rotational annual crop, which is usually a cereal grain.

Ironically, when we did get rain, it was not rain in an amount to do us any good, but we had a very wet last half of May and the first 10-12 days of June. It pretty much took all of the chances of having anything higher quality off the table. While the quantity was very strong, the quality was some of the lowest quality we put up in a number of years. It's just been a challenging year.

By Ana Cox, Mendocino County goat dairy farmer

It's been a very busy few months for us. Things were a bit stressful last fall before the coronavirus, with all the (power) shutdowns by PG&E. It really affected us because most or all the milking that's done in our facility is done through a pipeline, and it's all electricity to operate. With as many animals that we're doing, it's not possible to milk by hand.

We ended up having to dry up all the herd, which meant months of no milk—and if there's no milk, there's no cheese as well. We're still trying to recoup from that. We lost products in the walk-in (cold storage). We sold every drop of cheese that we had on hand, and that's a blessing really. But the other side of it is that we would get orders that we couldn't fill. That was a challenge, but we have a wonderful customer base that was very patient and knew our situation.

We bred our girls later than we normally do. So that meant we didn't have kids until later in the spring. Those were months with no milk, and no milk means no cheese. We are back in full production and trying to get all the orders filled with mostly our local stores, because they take priority.

One of the things we are going to do this year is get a generator, so at least we could keep our walk-in going, milking machines and pipeline functioning. Hopefully, we're not going to need it once we get the generator, but I want to have it as a backup.

We're in the middle of hay season as well. We're cutting hay. We do 80 acres. That feeds our herd throughout the year. Hay production is, so far, good. Considering we didn't get as much rain as I think most of us would have liked, it's sufficient enough that it's given us a pretty decent hay crop. We've been lucky, even through the drought. Even when it looks dry out there, the water table is only about 2 to 4 feet down. We're very blessed and very lucky to be able to grow hay.

We've been around different things that have happened in our lifetime in farming, and you either adjust to it or it will get to you and you give it up. I'm soon to be 75 in September. We're not ready to give this farm up or the dairy or the hay or anything we're doing. We just pray for good health and at least another 20 years.

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