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From the Fields® - May 5, 2021

By Chris Lange, Tulare County beef, olive and citrus grower

The big concern is, where do we stand as far as water resources are concerned? We've tied up a lot of water, so I am feeling pretty confident for this coming year. If this drought should continue, all of agriculture in California is going to be in big trouble.

We have wells we've been monitoring and have made a number of pump improvements, upgrades and replacements to make sure that we have enough water to support the orchards and the crops they are producing.

With our citrus crops, we had a very heavy bloom and anticipate that we will have an above-normal crop coming into next year. Scorching temperatures could change things, but it looks good currently. We are still harvesting navel oranges, Minneola tangelos and lemons, and are starting Valencia oranges. We're probably going to harvest citrus to July 1. Labor is not so bad where we are.

Specific to navels, last year we started putting out pheromone cards to disrupt the mating process for red scale. In addition, we are doing our traditional scale spray, which we are incorporating with fertilizer spray right now.

Olives had a heavy bloom. They are alternate bearing and this should be an "on" year, so we should have a big olive crop. Obviously, we want to have good sizing and quantity.

For olives and citrus, we've had comfortable night temperatures and not scorching temperatures during the day, so that's good news.

For the cattle, our hillsides are pretty dry. We expect to see our foothill ground drying out substantially by the middle of May. Our hay crop is excellent. When native grasses are in short supply, we'll supplement with hay. Plus, we purchased additional hay just to make sure that we can make it through this season. At this point, we have 75% of our beef cattle herd. We reduced it by about 25%. It sounds like beef sales on the national level are slow right now, and prices have come down.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and almond grower

On the grape side, back in February, they seem to be pushing, growing a little bit on the earlier side. Then, for whatever reason, with the weather, they got delayed. I would say they're probably normal to maybe a little bit on the later side, as far as bloom. It all depends on what happens with the weather. Of course, everything's been really dry this year. We're about half of our normal rainfall for the season. But overall, I think they're looking good. A lot of them got removed this year, so I think as far as the market, it's starting to look a little bit more into balance.

The mildew is our biggest concern this time of year, and the main thing is staying on a good fungicide program; don't get behind on it. The weather's been dry, which is a good thing, although we need rain. You always want dry weather, but you always want rain, too.

As far as the almonds, what I've been hearing is, some of the crop is a good crop—maybe a little bit lighter, just spotty here and there. It sounds like the fields that had a lot of almonds last year may be a little bit on the lighter side this year, where the almond orchards that were a little on the lighter side last year may tend to be a little bit on the heavier side.

As far as labor, it seems to be OK right now as far as the grapes. We're trying to get suckering done prior to the cherry season, because once cherries start, it pulls away some of the labor force on the vineyard side of the operation. We do grow a few cherries. The crop there looks like a good crop of cherries, and they may be a few days later than normal.

We rely a lot on the well water, but we're all concerned about SGMA. There hasn't been, as of now, any restrictions, but some of those restrictions come out at a later date. We're anticipating that the supply of water, as far as surface water, is going to be pretty tight.

Like anyone, we're all trying to keep up with all the requirements for government regulations as far as filling out paperwork. It seems like there's never an end to it, and trying to learn all the acronyms.

By Matthew Efird, Fresno County tree crop farmer

We are in full swing with spring activities on our ranches. Irrigations are becoming more frequent as Et numbers climb due to increasing temperatures. Walnuts are just finishing bloom, and we were to finish our spring almond plantings by the end of April. The mild spring has not only been great for planting, but also for the early development and nut set in our almonds following such a large 2020 crop.

We will begin bloom sprays on our raisin grapes within the next 10 days, and were to apply the first peach twig borer spray on our young almonds. Unfortunately, we have experienced a spike in our navel orangeworm trap counts, and I am concerned that it may be shaping up to be a bad year. The mild and dry winter, combined with the lack of quality "mummy" removal throughout the valley, has led to conditions for navel orangeworm populations to overwinter.

Another result of the dry winter is a poor outlook for district water deliveries. With current snowpack levels at 35% of average, Fresno Irrigation District has announced that water deliveries will not begin until June and may only consist of a 30-day water run. Consolidated Irrigation District discussed not having a water run at all, as their allocation of water from the Kings River is below a manageable threshold to charge and deliver water throughout their system. This is extremely unfortunate, as I had hoped that it was going to be a better water year.

By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County winegrape grower and dairy farmer

We've had a really short year on water. Here in the Russian River, we've gotten about 12, 14 inches of rain and our normal is about 30, so we're really behind on water.

The grapes are, in my estimation, about two weeks late coming out. They're looking good. They're coming out good, but we're going to have to do a lot of irrigation on them to keep them going. We had to run the wind machines several mornings last month because of frost. There wasn't real heavy frost, but there was some, and we've had to run the wind machines to keep the frost off. That seemed to work all right. We're spraying and taking care of them just like we normally do and hope for a normal summer. Hopefully, it isn't real hot.

I think demand for grapes seems to be pretty good, compared to what it's been the last couple of years. The market seems to be better, because last year was such a light year that most of the bulk wine got used up. With the fires and everything, that crop was pretty light going into the wineries because a lot of grapes didn't get picked last year.

On the organic dairy side, we're doing fine. The milk is being picked up and the creameries are doing good. I think the conventional side has got some surplus, and I think there's quite a bit of dairy products floating around. Organic seems to be going pretty decent recently. Where I'm sending my milk, the demand is good.

The only problem is, looking into the future or the year, it looks like our costs are going to be up quite a bit with corn and soybeans. Looks like hay is going to be substantially higher than it's been in the past, so that's a little concern. The pasture where the cows are is not irrigated. I do irrigate some for hay and stuff, but not for pasture. With no rain, you've got to buy hay and grain to keep them going. Organic (feed) is very, very expensive.

Right now, we're still in springtime here and we've got some pretty nice grass. We could use another rain or two. Pasture conditions have been pretty decent, but now you are starting to get warmer days and the grass is not going to be coming much longer if we don't get some rain.

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