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From the Fields® - October 7, 2020

By Doug Dickson, Sacramento County pear grower

We're finished with harvest. We have both Bartletts and Boscs. We pick the Bartletts first and then the Boscs second, and we finished (harvest) around the 15th of August. Harvest this year was, on average, about 50% of normal.

Quality was very good because we didn't have that big a fruit set. We had some cold weather during the bloom time. It got down to the low 30s a couple of days, and we just didn't have a lot of blooms that set. We had a lot of bloom drop after the bloom was over. We realized we were going to have a problem early on from a yield perspective.

The quality this year for the consumers was very good. We had a lot of large fruit and it was with high sugar. The grades were great. Prices were decent. We just didn't have as much fruit as we would've liked.

After harvest, we spend most of our time going through and cleaning up the blight that wasn't cut before harvest. Now we're doing preparation for some herbicide control to get the weeds down. Oftentimes, maybe 50% to 75% of the time, we put a fall phosphate fertilizer down for the next year, but with a light crop, the trees are in pretty good shape, so we're probably not going to add additional fertilizer this year in the fall for this crop, just because the trees were not very stressed with a big crop this year.

We'll start looking at pruning in December, so we'll get our pruning crews out. Every year, labor gets a little bit more difficult.

We had trouble with harvest this year. We had a lot of small crews because of COVID. We probably had three or four days of delay over the course of the week, just because we had smaller crews and it took us longer to pick, and that was primarily due to COVID. If we had had a big crop this year, it would have been very difficult to get it picked during the season. We would have stretched (harvest) into the Lake County and even Oregon/Washington fruit, if we hadn't had a small crop.

By Travis Fugitt, Kern County diversified farmer and custom harvester

We are gearing up to start cotton picking, and we're looking at a start date of about Oct. 10. We're estimating about the same yields as last year. I looked at some cotton in the Tipton area that we'll be harvesting and it'll be a solid three-bale, if not a four-bale crop, which is excellent. The pima down in Bakersfield that we're harvesting looks to be average for what they normally do.

We already harvested our hemp. Our last day of harvest was last week. It went very well. I believe we harvested 2,000 pounds of flower per acre.

This is our third year of growing hemp. We had a research permit, so we started a year before everybody else. We're learning new things every year. We're toying with all the latest and greatest genetics. What they gave us in the beginning wasn't really well suited for California's desert, dry-heat climate. What we've been toying with is all the different genetics, trying to figure out what's going to work here or the best quality flower for the end result.

We're after the cannabinoids. Everybody just says hemp CBD. It's not that at all. It's actually CBN, CBG. There's all kinds of different ones, and we began researching ourselves what each strain does and what it's good for. CBD is good for inflammation. CBN is more for sleep. With CBG, if you're taking a medication that you needed to get into your body faster, it's like a supercarrier to get it in quicker. We have our own research labs doing that in house.

Our challenges this year were germination-related, and we've learned that certain genetics like cooler temperatures to germinate. We learned that it needs to be planted earlier in the season and it does not like heat—and we had nothing but heat.

Late in the season, thanks to California's mismanagement of the forest and all the forest fires we have going, smoke/ash was a huge problem with the crop late in the season. Smoke causes the acidity in the plant to skyrocket, so the quality may not even be usable if it was in a region where the smoke was too thick. Hemp is essentially a sponge, and it goes after any of the bad things that are in the soil or its environment; it just soaks them up. Its pro is it cleans the soil and is beneficial. Its con is the finished product also takes it in too, and that's bad.

Our facility up in Lancaster was impacted by fire. We have farms in different regions, and different fires affected them in different areas in different ways, so now we've got to harvest it. They'll process it just the same, and then you've got to see if the flower is good enough for fresh market or, is it going to need to go to biomass for oil extraction? If it gets into the oil side of things, you can remediate it out pretty easily, but with the fresh market, it gets you out of that real fast.

Our almonds came in pretty good this year. We were above our average this year. They haven't processed them yet. They're just picking them up off the ground. The alfalfa is pretty common; it is what it is. We harvested wheat and it made good protein. Yields were good. And the carrots—that's tried and true.

By Nick Solari, San Joaquin County walnut and cherry grower

We're harvesting walnuts. We're still finishing up the early varieties, Tulares and Howards. Chandlers are kind of holding off, probably because of the heat, so we're going to try to start test-shaking some (Chandlers) this weekend and see how those come down. We'll probably finish up with our Chandlers maybe the third week in October.

We have an early variety called Ivanhoe, and normally we pick that the end of August. This year we picked it the beginning of September. We were a little bit later on those, but overall, I think industry-wide everybody's been saying they're a week to 10 days early.

With Tulares and Howards, there's been a lot of dark walnuts, a lot of blows, meaning they have no meat in them. Everybody was expecting heavy production this year, and looking at the walnuts you probably thought you got it, but I'd say 20% to 30% is going out the back end of the garbage because there's no meat in them. The only thing I can relate it to is maybe the heat, that late heat clear into September.

The market is down, so we were hoping the heavier tonnage would make up for the poor market, but I don't know if that's going to happen. I think we're going to be off of the yield estimate.

The walnuts that are good are really nice; there is good quality there. We have our own processor and we process and sell our own walnuts, and walnuts going to the processor are actually looking really nice. The hullers are doing a good job at cleaning them up. Even though it's a poor market, I don't think buyers will be disappointed. It's going to be really good quality to them.

In cherries, we just finished our after-harvest pruning. Other than that, we're doing minor irrigation just to keep some moisture in the soil.

The quality was really nice in cherries. I don't know if this whole COVID thing put a damper on the market, because for the quality of fruit that was out there, the market wasn't that good. I think they were in the mid-$40 range per box on cherries, and normally when we're picking our earlier varieties, we're in the mid-$60s and $70s. We had really good production—I think that helped us out—and good quality, but the market wasn't there.

As far as COVID, we changed some of our practices, kept our employees apart. Where and when possible, they're working on their own, in their own field doing their own jobs. We minimized workers being around each other. Obviously, we had to do the sanitizing and they had to eat lunches separately.

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