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From the Fields® - October 6, 2021

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

The end is near for harvest. It was a very early harvest compared to normal years. We'll be finishing this harvest probably three weeks ahead of normal. It was a mixed bag, a relatively light crop, lighter than average.

It was a very dry year. The interesting thing about this year is we got not one spring rain. Usually, we get a few spring rains. I think that lack of water showed up in the trees and vines with these lighter crops. There were no other issues this year. It was a little bit warmer than usual, but not by much. The big difference was the lack of rainfall. We had to use more water to irrigate.

Wildfires did not necessarily impact our crop. Ironically, I could see the flames from my house on the first night of the Caldor Fire. It started so close, but then it raced across the Sierras in the other direction, so there was never significant smoke for prolonged periods of time that would have affected grape quality.

The market seems to be somewhat in equilibrium, with supply and demand fairly balanced. Maybe we might be a little short on supply.

With harvest ending three weeks early, we're going to be focused on fall activities. We're going to have a lot more time to do fall projects this year, like grading roads and shutting pump systems down for the winter and winterizing them.

By Benina Montes, Merced County organic farmer

We just wrapped up our almond harvest this week. We're up about 15% on our production, so we're happy about that. One benefit to the dry spring is increase in production for the organic orchards. We're still dealing with (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act), the drought and water issues, so we're hoping for a lot of rain this winter.

The market for organic almonds has come up a little bit on price, not to the same extent that conventional has. But with our increase in production, we're happy to say we can survive another year farming in California.

Next week, we're going to start cleaning up our olive fields in preparation for harvest. That should happen in the next three to four weeks. I think it's a pretty decent year for us on the organic olives. We like to direct-market our olive oil so that we can get a competitive price with our own brand label, Burroughs Family Farms.

Our next lambing season has just started. We bought sheep in February. This is now our third group that's going to be lambing in 2021. The sheep are relatively new for us, but we're very passionate about regenerative agriculture and the help that it can do for climate change, global warming and suppressing carbon. Even though we've always used manure and compost on our fields, we want to incorporate more animal grazing within our orchards. The sheep are going to be a tool that we could utilize for that. We're looking forward to this winter when the sheep come out in the orchards again. Our sheep are for meat. We have an easy-care breed, so hopefully we don't have to shear them and still produce a high-quality product.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County farmer

For the first time in my life, we seem to be developing what I would call drought markets, where the lack of water and summer heat in other areas is advantageous to our prices. We're seeing some commodity prices come up. One example is durum wheat. We saw prices last year at $13 to $15 a hundredweight; they're now at $20, which makes it profitable to grow. The normal durum growing areas in the Dakotas and Canada got smoked with the heat last year. A lot of that crop was damaged or did not make, so the crop is short. We grow very good quality durum, but our costs are high, so we need really good prices to be able to come out on the black side of the ledger.

I think we're going to see a pretty big uptick in durum wheat in this area, although it's in competition with a couple of other crops. Alfalfa prices are quite high because other competitive areas are short of water. We're certainly watching the Colorado River, which is severely overdrafted. The conventional wisdom is we're probably OK for a year and a half to two years. But if it doesn't start raining, we'll be in the same boat as everybody else. We're looking at a La Niña year, which generally speaking is dry in the Southwest and better in the Northwest and in the East.

The other thing that looks like it might be a good opportunity is the sweet onion crop, which has been really dismal the last few years with terrible prices, mainly because we were competing with storage onions from the Pacific Northwest. They can produce them much cheaper than we can.

But this year, the Pacific Northwest was hurt by the heat. They've got small sizes and decay. They won't be able to store them as long. It looks like we're going to have a decent sweet onion market. I grew onions for a few years and was beat pretty severely. I've given them up. Even though I think it'd be a good deal this year, I probably won't grow them because I don't have a packinghouse available to handle them.

I'm not doing any vegetables this year. The vegetables have been really tough the last few years. Every year we lose more of our vegetable production to Mexico because of the high costs and the labor.

I don't have any seed contracts this year. Contracts for a lot of the stuff we grow are led by our local seed companies. Because things have been pretty tough the last couple of years, the money for a lot of that research has been scaled back.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

We grow, pack and ship cantaloupe and honeydew melons. We typically start in July and run through about the middle of October, so we're coming to the end of our season. By and large, the season's been very good. Our production has been pretty strong all summer long.

Prices have been good. I wouldn't say demand has been off the charts, but supply all summer has been a bit short, so pricing, in general, has been good, and return to the farm has been strong. I think we'll finish off strong as well.

As we transition out of California and into Arizona, we're starting to see a bit more late-fall disease pressure, but it's pretty normal for this time of year. That impacts yield and what growers can get in terms of production out of those fields. We could see further supply shortages. I think we'll see a period in the next month or so where supplies will be tight, returns to the farm in terms of pricing could be good, but they'll be impacted by lower yields.

Typically, our fields in California are disked and turned into a winter crop. The biggest crisis right now is water and what's going to happen over the winter—and whether those grain crops should even be planted. Oftentimes grain prices don't necessarily support the cost of water and other inputs. In general, farming inputs are skyrocketing. We're seeing water at crazy all-time highs. Being in the middle of a drought, we're curious as to what sort of winter water supply we'll get, what allocations, if any, will be available for 2022, and what the crop map is going to look like for 2022, because at this point it's pretty hard to quantify.

Most farmers carried over water from 2020 to 2021. There was virtually no carryover going on from '21 into '22. With no carryover, it's pretty hard to plan and predict and make any crops pencil on the farm.

I do believe there'll be a supply of melons. I don't think it will be as high as some prior years, but it could be similar to this year. Melons are a short-cycle crop, and in terms of water usage, they're pretty low, so I think there'll be plenty of melons next year, but that remains to be seen.

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