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From the Fields® - February 3, 2021

By Zack Stuller, Tulare County farmer

We're currently harvesting citrus. Navel oranges are in full swing. We're starting to pick Washingtons, Cara Caras. We're also picking lemons. The second-to-last week of January, we started picking tangelo mandarins.

Everything looks good. Quality is great. Sizes are a little small compared to last year, but that's because it's a big crop. It appears that prices are holding well. It's just demand is a little slow, probably due to COVID.

On stone fruit, we grow plums and cherries. We're finishing up with dormant sprays and anticipating bloom probably the middle to end of February, and then we'll be off to the races. Pruning is all complete on stone fruit.

You need wet weather to put pre-emergent herbicide out and we have not been able to do that. It was a mad scramble last week because it looked like it was going to rain. We've been busy putting pre-emergent herbicide out, but up until last week, we have had really no significant amount of wet weather whatsoever.

The middle of January was incredibly mild weather, which can be very detrimental to citrus quality. Luckily, it looks like it's turned back into winter, so it might not be an issue, but we were getting a little nervous for a while. In late December, early January, we did an irrigation on every crop we farm—citrus, stone fruits, almonds, walnuts. I can't remember the last time we did that. We're supposed to be in the shop working on equipment on rainy days this time of year, not out farming.

Because it was such a dry fall, we didn't plant any winter oats. We got a couple of hundred acres worked up and ready to go, but we don't have a lot of surface water down here and growing a not-very-cash-flow crop like winter oats on expensive surface water doesn't make sense. We pulled the plug and we didn't plant any. The corn price is up, so we'll plant corn in the spring.

We did harvest dry black-eyed beans in October. Yield was down, but price was phenomenal—25-30% more than it's been in the past—which made up for not-very-good yields.

Snow levels are definitely increasing, but up until the recent storm, the surface-water supply, both federal and state, has looked pretty bleak. We try to save that water for our trees, the stuff that makes more money. We're not going to grow a lot of row crops on a 10% allocation.

By Tony Vaught, Butte County aquaculture producer and consultant

I work with a number of different farms and a number of different companies that service those farms. I also have my own small production and I market my own fish.

Now that it's rained, we will be harvesting fish and stocking them out and delivering them throughout the state. Winter rains are important. They're filling private ponds, and some of these private ponds on ranches are stocked with fish for people to enjoy.

Wintertime is a time for planning and getting ready for the really busy season. For most warm-water fish farmers, the busy season starts about the middle of April. Hatching season goes through the middle of summer, which is always a busy season because we are hatching out fish and we're stock-planting fish and harvesting.

During winter, aquaculture farmers are preparing for hatching season. In a few months, they'll be pulling their brood stock up and hatching out channel catfish, bass, sturgeon, hybrid carp and others. They're preparing brood-stock ponds. They're preparing the ponds for the small fish and they'll be beginning their growing season, which for a warm-water fish is in the summer.

Trout growers are delivering their fish to cool-water locations throughout the state. Southern California, for instance, has robust cold-water recreational fishing venues and they need trout to stock those lakes, so trout growers are busy running trucks to these lakes—some private, some public—and stocking them for recreational fishing.

Despite the pandemic, our last hatching season in 2020 was successful as far as a hatch. It seems enough fish were produced last spring to grow out and be sold in 2021 and early 2022. There seems to be supplies of fingerlings throughout the state. It may be spotty, but it looks like the farms have the fish they need, at least for the short term.

Aquaculture was hard hit by the pandemic, not only disruption in the market—restaurant closures and exports—but disruption in the supply chain such as feed, oxygen and other materials needed to raise our fish.

On the positive side, some producers instigated online marketing and developed new products. People are creative when there's difficult times. One of the other positive things is people were cooking at home more and discovered aquaculture products and seafood. After we get through this, the aquaculture industry will be different, but stronger, and ready to grow and supply fish and product to the consumer.

By Juan Ramirez, Monterey County pest control advisor

The 2020 growing season was full of obstacles we had to overcome and adapt to. We encountered a huge problem with thrips on lettuce from Greenfield to Salinas, thus leading to an increase in INSV (impatiens necrotic spot virus) pressure. Throughout the year, we have learned a lot from attending meetings with the UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis research team.

Diamondback moth has also evolved into being a huge issue in Brassicas, cauliflower being the preferred host. We as PCAs had to come up with temporary solutions. I had to approach the problem with an integrated-pest-management mindset.

We used all of our tools, from chemical, cultural and even biological in our organic cropping systems. We will have to re-evaluate our tactics and approach for our 2021 growing season.

By Jeff Simonian, Fresno County farmer

We're pruning right now, both trees and vines. There's a lot of repairs going on. We're repairing trellises, repairing drip lines around pumps, maintenance on buildings, so there's actually a lot going on right now.

With the rain we've had, we're not necessarily getting any field work done, so it's more inside stuff they've been doing. There's always machinery to repair that we never seem to get to. They've been doing that this past week.

We have stone fruit, and right now we're still doing some pruning on the later varieties. The early and midseason varieties have been pruned. Some of the real early plum varieties are starting to bloom. We're still pruning the tail-end of those and we'll finish in the next week or two.

On vines, we have both raisin grapes and a few fresh-market grapes. We're still doing pruning on that. We're a little bit more than halfway done. That'll finish in the next couple of weeks.

We have some walnuts as well. They're doing some pruning, shaping the outsides of the rows, but we're not doing much with our walnuts right now.

We're grateful for the weather and rain. All the crops that we grow are dormant right now, so nothing is affecting the crop load and there's been no real damage. We did do a small irrigation about the first of the year, but last week we got about an inch and a half to 2 inches of rain, so we're going to be good for probably the next three weeks, at least as far as irrigating. I haven't looked at the season totals lately, but I think we're only around 3 or 4 inches, and typically a normal season, we get 8 to 10 inches, so we're still behind. We're hoping long term that we do get more rain.

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