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From the Fields® - October 20, 2021

By Matthew Efird, Fresno County farmer

The remainder of the late walnut and almond varieties were harvested before the end of last week. The almonds are drying after the recent rain, which only caused a minor pause in harvest activities. In comparison to 2020, yields have been inconsistent, and crop quality is down due to high insect pressure and excessive heat experienced through the summer months.

Raisin harvest has also concluded with quality up but production down. All in all, it was a bit of a mixed bag this season across all of the various crops we grow.

The high winds we experienced recently caused a significant amount of damage. Saturated soils due to postharvest irrigations caused full-size trees to be uprooted. Two-year-old orchards have required a significant amount of attention, as many trees had to be retied and/or staked. Luckily, we will lose very few of those trees, as they merely laid over and the trunks did not break.

We are now focusing on postharvest activities such as floating or firming orchard floors, postharvest fertilization, weed management and preparing for cover-crop seeding. Pruning and mechanical hedging in the orchards has already begun, with vineyards beginning to be pruned a little over a month from now.

The fields we have designated for redevelopment have already had the trees removed and are waiting to be ground. We will spread and incorporate the wood chips back into the soil before fumigating and planting trees next spring. Grant funding, which we received from the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District, is much appreciated, as the cost to remove an existing orchard has increased exponentially over the last several years.

By Peter Jelavich, Sutter County walnut farmer

We started harvest around Sept. 12 and we're probably 60% done. The quality of the walnut crop is good this year, but the nut size is kind of disappointing. The objective measurement for the state's walnut crop came out in September and shows that the crop is 100,000 tons less than last year's crop, which surprised everybody a little bit.

After harvest got going, there was not as many nuts on the tree. If you look at the objective survey, the nut set on the Vinas this year is the third lowest in the last 10 years; the lowest for Howards in the last 10 years; fourth lowest for Tulares; and lowest for Chandlers. We just don't have the nuts on there.

Hard frost damage in certain areas from last November was significant enough that it's probably going to affect this crop. In the spring, when the tree started leafing out, in some orchards—in some parts of orchard— you could see some frost damage appearing in tree limbs. The trees didn't have a chance to go dormant, and that was significant enough that this could affect the crop.

When harvest is done, people will be more convinced of what the crop size is, and that will stabilize the market. Right now, most growers and handlers I've talked to think the crop is coming in on the light side. More think it is going to be below the estimate. Buyers remain cautious. If they buy walnuts and the price goes down, then they have a tough time selling them at a profit, because they've got to compete with that lower price on the market.

Related to water, we are fortunate and have good water sources. My water year was fairly decent, but there's some spots in the valley where the water quality is not as good due to salinity, which is toxic to the trees. In the past, if you had salt in your soil, you tried to leach it out. Of course, winter rains do a good job of leaching it out, but we're not getting that now, so the salt is building up in some areas.

We have to be happy that the market has rebounded. Last year we had a pretty good-size crop. Due to the pandemic, it was hard to move the crop around the world, or shipments were delayed, so it was the worst price we had in the last 20 years. I think we can be more comfortable about higher prices this year.

By Ed Fumasi, Glenn County dairy farmer and rancher

Feed prices for grain and hay are plenty high—higher than they've been in I don't know how many years. I've been lucky with the feed. I work with some local growers, and they keep me with enough hay for the season. They store the hay for me, so I'm pretty lucky there.

As far as the pasture is concerned, water was really short this summer. We had groundwater, but it was real slow. We quit irrigating in early September because the water got too slow. But we made it through the summer, which was good.

Now we're just waiting for the rain. Things are pretty dry. In the fall, we plant beardless wheat for hay, for the cattle and for the goats. Hopefully, it rains enough this winter to make a crop, because the last two years we didn't have enough later rains to make it grow and mature, so I really didn't make any dry-ground hay. It was pretty tough. I had to buy more feed. With all the money you put into feed and everything, you pretty much lose that.

As far as the goats go, we're just now starting to dry goats up. We're getting toward the end of breeding season. Goats are seasonal, unlike cows. They only kid in the springtime, not all around like cows do. January and February is kidding season, so we're getting the goats ready for the kidding season. We take them out of the herd and dry them up.

By Charles Muranaka, Ventura County vegetable grower

We're year-round, and we're planting every week, harvesting daily. We're planting red radishes, curly parsley, Italian parsley, leeks, green kale, black kale, cilantro. We're constantly working, so there's no off-season.

Everything's going pretty good. Crop yields are where they should be for this time of the year. Summer weather has been getting hotter every summer, but we didn't seem to have any huge additional plant stress this season. Pest and disease pressure is pretty average. As far as quality, we've been very consistent this past season.

We've seen a green onion market. We grow a lot of green onions down in the Mexicali Valley, down in Baja California. Every summer the weather gets pretty warm down there, so about September, October, you start to see some reductions in yields from the crop down there. Demand does start to exceed supply just because of what the weather does to the crop, so we've seen a little bit of a market there. The (market) is still a little bit tight on supply of green onions right now, and the production coming out of Canada and the middle of the country is starting to wind down. If the production in Mexico is not ramped up before those local markets drop off, then there's going to be additional supply gap that will exceed demand.

What's been hurting us right now and this past year is the labor supply. It's been pretty tough just to continue to build up the workforce. We're actually leaving some crop behind in the fields because we can't labor it out. That's probably the biggest issue we've been going through for the last 12 months or so. The labor pool is not there. I don't know where it went, but it's hard to bring in workers. That's been the biggest challenge, above weather or crop growth. We're trying to find the budget to put forth attractive wages and keep pushing word of mouth, pushing advertising, local radio and social media. But it's been hard to retain workers.

It's just trying to find that balance, and that balance is becoming more challenging in terms of how expensive it is to grow and farm in California with the restricted labor supply. You have to reset your planting schedules. We don't foresee the labor market improving anytime soon, so we're making calculated adjustments to our planting schedules and reducing production because it doesn't do us any good to continue to have crop ready that we can't pick. We know that right now we are stressed for labor, and we don't foresee that pool increasing anytime soon, so we're lining up what we can grow to what we can harvest.

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