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From the Fields® - September 16, 2020

By Josh Barton, San Joaquin County walnut, almond and olive grower

Almonds are currently where most of our attention is going to. As you can see up and down I-5, guys are out shaking and harvesting almonds.

We are in the midst of the nonpareil harvest. We are getting the shaking and the sweeping done. The crop this year looks really good. We're encouraged by that.

Once we finish with the nonpareils, the big challenge is going to be trying to get those trees irrigated, because of all the stress that they endure as you try to dry those trees down in order not to damage the trees during the shaking process.

In terms of walnuts, this is the craziest time of year when it comes to integrated pest management. One of our big philosophies is that we obviously want to spray less. This is the one time of year where it doesn't always work out that way, because we're dealing with a host of different pests at the same time.

Navel orangeworm is a concern, not just in almonds but in walnuts. We've got our eye on that, constantly checking traps and making sure that we're not hitting our thresholds. The other big one this time of year is husk fly. As the temperatures heat up, mites become an issue as well. As we inch closer to walnut harvest, we're constantly going in and trying to control those three pests the best we can.

We'll start getting walnuts off the tree in another two to three weeks. This has been a great growing season, a relatively mild summer. But August was a different animal. The heat came late this year, so I'm not just dealing with the air quality of the smoke from the fires. We've also been hit with a pretty good heat wave that we've had concerns about sunburn on the product.

That being said, the walnut crop looks good. I'd say it's an above-average year for us. All varieties across the board look to be good. You don't ever know until the fruit is on the ground, but we're hopeful that it's going to be a good year in terms of yields on the walnuts.

The walnut and almond industries have faced a number of challenges in the marketing department, in terms of price. But the way you get around that is you try to pump out a good crop and hope that helps to subside the price issues where possible.

We're dealing with some market issues. We've got more foreign competition than we've ever had before, and we've got more walnuts on the market domestically than we've ever had before, in terms of our local production here in the state. What the handlers have had to deal with is just trying to figure out how we're going to push new crop through while there's some of last year's crop still on the market. That's going to impact to some degree opening prices as we go into the 2020 crop year.

We're expecting low field prices. We're grateful that we've got a good-sized crop to help mitigate some of the challenges there, but it's going to be a rough road for several years as growers and handlers try to figure out ways that we can move product into new markets.

On the (oil) olives, we're still four to six weeks out from harvest. What we're focusing on is proper irrigation management, especially with the high heat. In the past, a regulated deficit irrigation process beginning middle of August and the first part of September was standard practice. But we found out that keeping the water on those olives is going to be important until harvesttime. We want to try to drive the fat content and the moisture content in those olives up as we prepare to pick.

A lot of our focus is on nutrition and irrigation. We are making some field preparations now, because we're going to be somewhat limited labor-wise as we get into the nut harvest. We're going through and making our harvest preparations now in regard to how we skirt the bottoms of these trees so that the harvester enclosures can get around the trunks of these trees, doing a fair amount of field cleanup, getting those prunings shredded, getting herbicides on and the centers mowed down, so that we have good field conditions come harvesttime. That should take place in the next week or so.

By Celeste Alonzo, Riverside County vegetable grower

For the fall, we will be growing 80 acres of sweet corn, 80 acres of peppers and 15 acres of green beans. We have been struggling with the transplants, just because weather has been so horrible—we'll go from 105 degrees to 120 degrees within a day.

My dad has been walking the fields every day, monitoring the plants. We just need to be on top of the watering schedule and the irrigators. We had one block where the plants just started wilting, so we're trying to see if we can add more fertilizer and see if they will come back to life.

As far as how the summer went, I think everybody was really uncertain about COVID and how the markets were going to be. We had unsteady markets in the beginning, but they ended up leveling out. I think we're blessed to grow commodities that people look for and want. For the commodities that we have, it was a good market; demand exceeded supply for most of the summer.

Related to the loss of sales of sweet corn at events that were canceled during COVID, there was definitely income loss, but I think we're going to make up for this fall. We started selling corn on the side in produce boxes, to make up for it as much as we could. Someone in town started a local produce box, and we're selling our veggies to them and to smaller markets and produce stands.

We're doing everything we can to protect our employees and keep them safe by providing them with masks and hand sanitizer. We care about them and let them know that they are part of our family.

By Nick Rocco, Fresno County almond and raisin grower

We farm nonpareil and Monterey almonds.

Nonpareil is the soft-shell variety and Monterey is the hard shell. We are about to start the harvest on our hard shell; we've finished our soft shell. It's a good almond crop this year. The industry is saying it is a huge crop year of about 3 billion pounds.

We farm grapes for raisins and sell them to Sun-Maid and also do commercial grape harvesting. We've got several more full weeks of harvest. We're about halfway into our grape harvest now and we'll probably finish the first or second week of October.

Crop size and crop quality are yet to be determined, but from everything I'm seeing, the crop is of decent quality, but a little bit lighter as far as the tonnage goes. We're hoping that the price for the raisins is going to come back.

By Denise Godfrey, San Diego County nursery producer

It has been an unusually busy summer this year. Normally, we start with a very strong January as the holiday plants are replaced and plants are purchased to celebrate the Lunar New Year and Valentine's Day. Strong sales continue through Mother's Day and will decrease in the summer, as the children get out of school and families vacation.

After five very slow weeks in March and April, the crazy demand for indoor tropical plants this summer was very unexpected. There is still some uncertainty surrounding the demand for blooming products going into the Year of the Ox.

We have seen consumer tastes expand as they search for unique plants with distinctive foliage. It is difficult to predict what changes businesses will make to rejuvenate their indoor plantscapes as employees return to the office and more people return to public spaces. In the meantime, we are excited to see tropical indoor plants have become a necessary fixture in the consumer's home and work space, as they experience the psychological benefits of bringing nature indoors and cultivating an indoor gardenscape.

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