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From the Fields® - August 5, 2020

By Greg Tesch, Kern County peach and cherry grower

Our cherries got hit with a huge rain around April 7. It rained constantly. We were in early-color stage and it split our crop, so weather affected the quality of the crop, which affected the marketability.

We picked a little too early, but I guess we had to, because the crop was not that marketable anyway. We got a pack-out return of about $2,000 per acre and we needed more like $10,000 to $15,000 per acre. We basically covered our labor costs for picking and a little bit to pay for some of the irrigation.

We got diminished on peaches. The peach yields were down. The peach sizes were off. We had a super-cool period when they were sizing, which usually increases size, but it didn't this year. We had lower returns based on fruit sizing on the peaches.

The markets were very poor. Our typical wholesale markets in the Bay Area did a total of two pallets in business this year, compared to about 30 to 40 pallets. That's COVID-related and/or they went to buy somewhere else.

We moved about 3% to 5% of our fruit through wholesale channels. That means all of the other fruit had to go through packinghouse shipping channels. We do some specialty wholesale business in the Bay Area, and that was pretty much shut down by this COVID thing. This is all retail. Hardly anybody was shopping for our fruit.

Farmers market (sales) have declined also for our stone fruit—peaches, nectarines, plums. The plums and pluots are in good shape. The fruit is fine, but the farmers markets have declined.

People are actually afraid to come out. The business in general is declining. People are just not out and about like they used to be. There's no entertainment, there's no food service at the markets. It's just, come and get your fruits and vegetables. A lot of people that found it appealing to go out and make an entertainment of it, those people aren't there, and the other people are being cautious. I think a lot of people are just doing different things, staying in.

By Sean McCauley, Contra Costa County olive, winegrape and field-crop farmer

As far as our (oil) olives are concerned, they look like a mediocre crop this year. Last year, we had a record crop tonnage-wise, as well as yields. A lot of times, what I've seen is the year after you have a really good year, it degrades a little bit. I won't know until we get into it, but it's probably a 20% degradation in (fruit) tonnage. I don't know the (oil) yields yet because we haven't pressed it.

We have a lot of microclimates in our area, which is Brentwood, and we got very little rainfall early in the (planting season). A lot of our rainfall came late. Although we got an average rainfall, it came around the beginning of 2020. When we saw that we weren't really getting any rain, we didn't plant any of our dry-farming crops. Looking back, if we would have planted something, it probably would have been OK.

We have no wheat this year because of the prediction of the amount of rainfall that we got in the later part of 2019. We didn't plant anything. We were going to put some safflower into the ground—and this is going to sound crazy—but then it got too wet because of how late it rained, so we never really got a chance to get anything in the ground.

We irrigate field corn, but we stopped putting corn in just because the price was bad. We haven't done any corn for a while.

Our winegrapes look pretty good, but the price is low. Our tonnage on the grapes looks really good. We're having a really good season so far.

Our labor has been pretty good. Everything has been fine. Farmers have not stopped at all with the COVID thing. With the state of not just the nation but the world, people need to be fed, and farmers haven't missed a beat, which I think is the bigger story. Everybody needs to have food and produce food. Farmers are already social distancing for the most part. They've all been working extremely hard, just continuing to do what they do best.

By Ward Burroughs, Stanislaus County organic dairy, almond and olive farmer

We're preparing for (almond) harvest. We're monitoring for navel orangeworm. We're doing releases of some parasites in that regard. We're getting all the equipment ready. We're going to start shaking in about 10 days to two weeks. We're irrigating, keeping the water going, because it's been a hot week.

We keep monitoring the younger trees; there's some mite issues on some of them. We're coming through with an organic mite-control spray.

The crop looks good for us. It's not what the conventional guys have, but for us, it looks very encouraging. The bloom was great, and we have a perfect storm for this great, big, huge conventional almond crop. We're also going to have a very comfortable organic almond crop, so that's good.

On the (oil) olives, they're starting to size. Harvest is not until October, November, so we've got quite a long way to go. Those trees have been topped in the last 60 days, so that they're ready for the mechanical harvesters when the crop comes off. We're keeping control of our weeds. We've done some mowing in the olive orchard. We're irrigating, giving them the water requirements that they need. But olives do love this Mediterranean climate.

It's not a great, big crop at all. We have some trees that look real good and others that have hardly any (fruit) on them. It may be variety related. It's not a bumper crop at all. You need to line up your olive-oil supplies early this year, because I don't think there's going to be a big crop, especially California organic olive oil.

The organic dairies are really struggling, because there's still too much supply and we're not getting paid enough to make it work. Most organic dairies are either behind a bunch or a little bit. That's pretty frustrating, because with dairy, you can't jump in and jump out. You're in it for the long haul, but it's very frustrating that we have had to deal with this for three, four years.

We're still waiting on the origin livestock rule in Washington, D.C., to get figured out and settled. We're still pushing real hard to get that done, and the National Organic Program wants to get that done, but they've hit a few roadblocks.

Strengthening of the organic rules is coming out. That's a new rule and it's going to help us organic farmers. They're going to try to put some more teeth in this rule so that there will be more inspections. They will do more policing. They will be able to catch the bad guys. There's been some fraud in terms of imported grain, and the system they set up now really helps prevent that or deter that from happening. There's going to be more money spent to oversee the whole National Organic Program. It's going to be watched better.

We're a grazing farm, so we irrigate. We're rotating our cows, managing our grass under these 100-degree conditions. We are trying to get as much dry matter as we can off our pastures and still keep the cows cool and comfortable, so we have to bring them off the pastures in midmorning. Even though they're getting grass off the pastures, we're still supplementing them. But the cows are doing very well.

There has been less organic milk sold as conventional this year. Demand is increasing and COVID has something to do with that, because if people are worried about their health, they will eat more organic, and milk is one of the first organic products that they'll consume. That's a good thing, but still, it's very frustrating because our price has not responded the way we were hoping it would.

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