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From the Fields® - April 21, 2021

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop farmer

Overall, I think things are moving along quite well. I'm pretty happy with the almond crop that I've got on my ranch, compared to last year. Right now, they're going through what's called a nut fill. The gel, which would be the almond inside the hole, is sizing. In May, we'll start to see that gel start to fill in and turn to kernel. We're doing our nitrogen program, putting some potassium out and doing a little sulfuric acid to bring the pH down a little. I'm going to start spraying miticide, some foliar nutrient and treat for navel orangeworm.

The pistachios we have in Mendota look real good. They're leafing out pretty nice. I saw some other orchards a little bit farther to the west up along the I-5 corridor where the leafing and the bud push is a little more erratic, similar to what happened last year. People are still trying to figure out why that is. Maybe it's chill hours. But our stuff in Mendota looks pretty uniform, and we're putting a fungicide on and some foliars.

The olives, which are for organic oil, are just now starting to bloom.

I've got my little cherry block up here. The last three years, I had really, really good crops. The year before that, I got rain and the cherries split, so my packout was pretty low. This year, I've got a very, very light crop. It was a long bloom. Generally, when you have a long bloom like that, it tends to be a little bit light, which is what happened to me. They're sizing now.

I think the biggest thing going on right now on the Westside is the lack of water. I'm in a unique situation, because I've got the water bank that we built over the last 15 years, so I've got water stored in my bank and I am able to exchange it with Mendota pool water users and move their water that they have up in the reservoir into my water district, and that's how I'm able to continue to farm. I'm trying to assist my water district with some extra water. We have to work together to try to get through the year, and then see what happens next year.

There's a lot growers that are making decisions about what to do. They're in survival mode, doing deficit irrigation, meaning putting half of what the tree is requiring, if they have it. There'll be a lot of insurance claims. There's a lot of ranches I know that are going on the market right now, because guys are done.

By Brad Fowler, Nevada County rancher

Pasture conditions are exceedingly dry. All of our annual grasslands are just about done right now, and with no rain in the forecast, we're seriously looking at destocking cows, so we're going to wean early and sell early on the cattle enterprise.

We're currently halfway through calving season with our cows. Cows are moving out to summer pastures.

Our irrigation water looks to be good this year. We're expecting 100% delivery in our district. The water turned on earlier. We're grateful for that. Our irrigated pastures are needing the water. The conditions are more similar to June 1 than April 15. We're just playing catch-up to get water across the fields before we put cows onto them.

We might wean our lambs early this year and sell some of them, just because the spring feed is almost done. We like to take them off the mothers before the grass turns. We'll wean them early, but we'll continue to run them until the feed runs out, and then we'll sell our lambs, probably in the fall.

All our sheep, goats and lambs are for contract grazing, and they are mostly out working right now on contract grazing projects. We had a very good lambing and kidding season, and we're wrapped up with that.

We expect that with the wildfires, this is going to be a very busy season for contract grazing. We're having more demand for contract grazing than we ever have before, especially when Cal Fire is predicting a super horrific fire season.

Drought years are actually pretty good for us because we get paid by the acre, not by the head per day. In drought years, we actually make more money in contract grazing because we're able to cover the ground faster than we would in a really good feed year. The cows do poorly in a bad feed year, but the sheep and goats are actually more profitable, so it balances out pretty well. That's where having the dual enterprise has actually really worked out well for us.

Now is a miserable time to sell cows, because the market has tanked. Everybody else is doing the same thing. We did apply for the Livestock Forage Program through the (Farm Service Agency) for drought relief, and that will help.

Despite the lack of moisture, we're anticipating it's still going to be a good year, especially on the contract grazing side, so we're optimistic about that.

By Kulwant Johl, Yuba County tree crop farmer

We had a good bloom and got a good crop of peaches. We'll be thinning peaches in probably two to three weeks. We've got a very heavy crop of peaches.

We'll be hand-thinning walnuts this year, because we had good weather. We didn't have to spray for walnut blight—unless the weather changes. If rain is predicted, then we'll be spraying walnuts for walnut blight.

Because of the heavy prune crop, we will be spraying with potassium nitrate. Same thing with the almonds; we'll have to put fertilizer and keep up with the irrigation on all these crops, because weather is warming up.

We will be monitoring the insects in peaches, walnuts and almonds. We started monitoring for Oriental fruit moth back in March. Same thing with the codling moth for walnuts. It depends on the population in the orchard.

It's still a little too early, but I think we've got a good crop of prunes. We've got a pretty decent almond crop. It's not like last year; last year was very heavy.

We pruned peaches and prunes back in January and February, and labor was short. Labor still is pretty short. We will be thinning in two to three weeks, and most farmers are worried about the labor.

Another thing is the prices. Walnut price is down, almond price is down, same as with prunes. That's another concern farmers are having.

We've got a shortage of water, too. If you're pumping from the ground, you're still OK in this area, but if you are on district water, they're putting limits on it. In one area, they are giving only 5% of water, so you cannot grow a crop. It's a big cut for the rice farmers, too; they are not getting the water, so we're going to get cut in the rice acreage. They are starting to work the ground now, and they'll be planting pretty soon.

By John Moore III, Kern County farmer

We are getting ready to enter potato harvest and carrot harvest for our spring crop. Potato harvest will begin in the south valley starting in the beginning of May. You're going to see harvest of additional root vegetables including sweet potatoes and then, later, onions and tomatoes.

For our citrus, about 75% of petal fall occurred for Kern County, so citrus is coming along pretty well. The same with almonds. Almonds are looking pretty good. From driving around, it looks like the almond crop is pretty full this year. We're not yet sure where the pistachios are going to end up, but it's supposed to be an "off" year for the pistachio crop for some.

We are dry. We are like the rest of the state of California; it's been a dry season.

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