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From the Fields® - March 17, 2021

By Theresa Jeffreys Bright, Colusa County pecan farmer

Right now, there's not a lot going on in the orchard: basic stuff like mowing and weed spraying around the trees' rows. We just had some hedging done. We've not hedged for the last two years, just because of costs. Last year we had a real low crop, so we feel like we needed to shake up the trees a little bit, so we did a little bit of hedging. Now, the next step is using a labor crew to get the sticks out of the orchard.

Our first real treatment will be probably first part of May with a zinc spray, once the trees leaf out. Hopefully, we won't have any aphids by that time. We spray zinc three to five times a year. The first one we always spray zinc, but after that, we just wait to see if we have an aphid infestation so we can spray it on once.

Other than that, we're kind of in a holding pattern, looking forward to a better harvest than last year, hoping and praying like everybody else for rain.

The trees are still completely dormant. There has been a little bit of collection of bud wood for future grafting. That's something that I'll probably start working on, is grafting some of the rootstocks that have been planted. I'm doing that because I've had horrible predation by gophers. They eat the tree off of the roots. It looks so bad—like Swiss cheese when you drive down the rows—because there are so many gopher holes.

We're not sure if it's all gophers or if it's a combination of the gophers chewing the tree and then the trees getting crown root gall, which pecans are susceptible to. It could be that the gophers first chew on the roots and damage them enough to where the crown root gall can then invade the tree.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County farmer

It was just over a year ago when I wrote about our late-winter work in preparation for the 2020 crop. Well, a lot has happened since. With several years of large statewide production, winegrape values fell sharply, with considerable acreage in San Benito and Santa Clara counties going unharvested.

We did pick ours and were fortunate to sell the crop to our winery operation at a price that just covered our cultural and harvest expenses. We retail almost all of our wine and were very concerned about the COVID-triggered closure of our two tasting rooms and stores last April. But given our fruit stand was classified as an essential business, it was allowed to remain open—and we were pleasantly surprised that our customers deemed wine as essential.

Our last crop of the year was the walnuts. Several years of large crops statewide and export sales falling off due to trade tariff issues made for a bad situation. In-shell organic walnuts were bringing to the grower as high as $2.80 a pound in 2015 and close to that the following years, but 2020 saw a return of about 80 cents a pound.

With the expectation of low prices for several years to come due to excess inventory, coupled with the decline of our older orchard, our decision was easy to make an appointment with the bulldozer. We just finished burning the piles and readying the acreage of fresh market tomatoes.

By Thomas Chandler, Fresno County diversified farmer

We should be done with our Tango mandarin harvest by now, but we still have over half our Tango mandarin crop still on the tree. The crop size for mandarins was large this year. So, the industry is size- and color-picking fruit this year via multiple harvest passes through the field, in order to limit how much fruit hits the market at one time.

The slowdown on getting containers at the port has also compounded the problems for the citrus market this year. The ports on the West Coast have fewer empty containers available to go back to the Asian markets because of the slowdown of imports caused by last year's COVID shutdowns.

The almond bloom is done now. The bloom conditions were good except for several days of wind. Fortunately, we did not get much rain on the bloom this year. We are already two fertilizer applications into each block of our almonds.

Pruning for our winegrapes is completed except for our young, late-season winegrape variety block. We held back from pruning the winegrapes that are susceptible to disease infections caused by winter rains.

The snowpack for the Kings River watershed is about 40% of normal to date. Our expected allocation from the Consolidated Irrigation District is one irrigation turn, which is about 30 days of water. On a normal year, we get a water run of at least 90 days.

By Jim Gates, Nevada County rancher

We're currently still feeding hay, whether we like it or not. The hay situation has gone from bad to worse, because it's so expensive that it's actually worth more than the cattle it is being fed to.

The range is not in good shape. If the rain comes at the right time, we can still have a decent feed year. If it doesn't come at the right time, looking at my low-ground pasture, the grass is getting ready to make head—and when it makes head, it goes to seed and it stops growing.

I usually have the cattle out on the dry land by the first of November and this year, they're just now going out there. The bulls usually go in on the 15th of November, and they're just getting in there now, so there's three months where no babies are going to be born. I've got all these heifer calves that I can't get bred.

I already reduced my (cattle) numbers and that may have to come again. We're trying to keep our numbers down until we can see something come our way. We're looking at our local irrigation district to see if we are going to be able to have full deliveries or if we are going to have to ration. If we have to ration, this directly impacts the number of cattle that I can finish that are then fit to go to market.

By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County citrus grower

We are finished harvesting our lemons. Movement in the domestic and international markets has been slower, but great quality kept us in the higher grades.

Navel oranges are moving slowly. We are most of the way through our regular navels and starting to work through our late navels. With good size, high sugar content and quality rind, our packout percentages have remained high and arrivals have been good for navels. The Valencia crop is looking equally as good, with good field piece counts, good size and high rind quality. We anticipate some Valencia harvesting within the next six weeks or so. This year's Valencia crop may have to hang on the tree a little longer, due to slow market conditions.

We are currently topping citrus trees and hand pruning. Bloom is around the corner, so we have started nutritional programs and pest-prevention applications.

Our almonds have reached full bloom and are starting petal fall. We will wait to see what Mother Nature has blessed us with.

Our olive groves are in hold mode for the moment. Bloom will be around the corner and we will start suckering trees shortly. This year should be a heavier crop year.

On the minds of all California agribusinesses are the impacts of COVID and the lack of precipitation. The impacts of COVID on workforce, transportation internationally at the ports, interstate commerce and home life—managing the never-ending balance of ag life and schooling children—has taken its toll. We will be stronger and more resilient because of it!

An obvious concern is the lack of snowpack and rainfall. The stresses it will put on our crops, farmers and the anticipated impact on groundwater throughout the basin will be a growing topic in the next few months.

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