From the Fields®

Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By Blake Mauritson, Tulare County citrus grower

The new year started off bleak. Winter was dry and warmer than expected, with the exception of a couple of frost occurrences. Rainfall and snowpack were nonexistent, and it looked like we were headed for another 2014.

Then Mother Nature helped us out, gave us a semi-"Miracle March," and water supplies and allocations were adjusted to a manageable level. The general feeling is growers are starting to look at their overall irrigation differently than in the past.

Lemons and navels were of high quality and, with good export and domestic demand, returns have been favorable. Valencias are in full swing for the east side. Flavor is good, but retaining color has been an issue. There has been some regreening taking place.

Bloom seemed to last forever this year and we are glad it's over. It looks like a nice piece count and fruit is starting to size, but the effects of the extended bloom are evident with the varying early size. We will see what "June drop" leaves us with.

The weather has been unpredictable for this time of the year, with unusual temperature swings. It has been an enjoyable spring, but pleasant days are behind us.

We have finished our foliar fertilizer applications for now. Everyone is gearing up for the inevitable heat and applying post-set crop protection for thrips, California red scale and rind-damaging insects. So far, so good. We will start another round of fertigation to continue fruit development soon. We look forward to a consistent growing season.

Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By John Moore, Kern County diversified grower

We started our first day of potato harvest on May 16. The crop will be shipped to Frito-Lay and other customers that take chipper potatoes. We are starting slower than we have in the past, starting slower than we did last year because there's a lot of storage potatoes left in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, so it's affected our shipments in Kern. That being said, we are really getting into the swing of things this week.

Our early potato crop was delayed because of some frost that we took in February. In late February, we had some frost in the valley that set back all of our early plantings. But it corresponded with late shipments for the West, so we're getting into the season a couple of weeks later than we would have otherwise.

And it looks like we're going to be shipping later into July and maybe even into August, which is extremely late for us down in this part of the valley. It's problematic in terms of quality because it gets so hot in Bakersfield and the surrounding areas that potatoes don't really fare too well. Usually for us, because we're on the early end, we try to end around the 4th of July or the second week of July. This year, we're probably going to go to the end of July, even into August.

We just hope we start shipping more potatoes. We set a contract every year with our purchaser and then we'll set up a matrix to ship potatoes along that matrix. But when things are off like this year, you have to be flexible and change as you grow and try to stay within the contract that you set up.

It can be a challenge at times, so you have to look for different outlets and change your options. It just changes things in the way that your plan is not exactly your plan anymore.

The pistachio crop is coming on. It looks decent, though it's a little too early to tell what it's going to be, but we have clusters on the trees and they're a good size.

Almonds are coming along. It's looking like the damage that was forecast is not quite what it's shaped up to be, at least in the south valley. We're expecting an average crop.

Citrus is coming on as well. It's really too early to say what the crop is going to be, but there are no issues as of yet.

Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By Greg Gonzalez, Monterey County winegrape grower

Currently, we are in the shoot-thinning and suckering time. Here in Monterey County, we are looking at 24-inch shoot growth right now, so it is kind of on the tail end of shoot thinning. We are now starting to see bloom in chardonnay and pinot noir. That's in the northern county: Greenfield, Soledad, King City. We are just starting to see the beginning of bloom in our merlots and cabernets farther south in the San Lucas area.

There's not a lot of labor availability, which I guess is the norm these days. The vegetable crops are in extreme harvest mode, so I have yet to see a day where there weren't hundreds of people harvesting lettuce out of the Salinas Valley. It is a little bit of a battle, but we have been able to keep a fairly secure labor force with us, say 60 people or so. I am fine with that because they are quality employees. There is a constant struggle with grape crews, but we benefit by maintaining constant work for the crews, so they seem to be sticking around and becoming fairly loyal. But they aren't crews of 20 people anymore; they are crews of 12 to 15 on a good day.

It has been perfect weather for mildew in the Greenfield area. We haven't been hitting the 80s; it has been in the high 70s for the last two weeks, with cloudy mornings that clear around 1 p.m. And then the wind comes in, so it hasn't really warmed up. It's not bad bloom weather, but not perfect bloom weather.

We are ecstatic at how clean things are in general compared to the last two years, when there had been great challenges. That means that all the efforts we are putting in for spray coverage and evaluations are paying off right now. The guys are really paying attention to their calibrations and the coverage they are getting with each pass.

Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

It's been a strange spring, colder than expected, wetter than expected and bizarre periods of high heat.

We've been planting for a few weeks now and are slightly behind schedule, but things can always change in agriculture. Melon acreage should be similar this season, but we wouldn't be surprised by additional acreage with a higher federal water allocation.

New varieties have changed the landscape for melons. More customers are requesting fruit for processing, so we are growing more hard-shell melons with more meat and higher brix levels. Unfortunately, some of these varieties are lagging behind on flavor, so moving forward we've directed seed companies to put a great emphasis on better eating quality.

Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

It has definitely been an interesting and challenging 2018 so far. From 85 degree highs in January to lows in the mid-20s, from drought-like conditions to flooding, this winter has brought about a wide range of weather conditions with which we've had to deal.

We, as farmers, expect to have to deal with adverse weather, that is just part of the game we play with Mother Nature. What wasn't expected was the latest food safety outbreak.

Even though Coastal California production areas are not implicated, sensationalized headlines in the media added to the fear and confusion and has contributed to the extremely weak demand for romaine lettuce.

Though the spring has not been as prosperous as we had hoped, we are still optomistic that things will be better for the rest of this year.

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County forester

The feed for livestock is coming on strong. We all are hoping that it doesn't heat up too quickly, so the grasses continue to grow.

Cattle and calves are now not having to work too hard to get a full belly and aren't really that interested in hay. Rainfall is still considerably less than a "normal" year. We are under 25 inches. However, we can still expect rainfall in May and hopefully June.

Vineyards are starting to bud out. In forestry, you had to have the first set of spotted owl calls for this season done by last Sunday.

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

The vines are about seven to 10 days later than last year, which was strange because of all that rain we had last year. With all that rain, the vines are cold, but they seem to grow faster. We've had a good spring so far. Those very timely spring rains helped fill the soil profile, which will help the vines through spring and summer so we can save on irrigation.

Crew-wise, we are still short on labor. This is a continuing problem. All of our inputs are costing a lot more every year, so we are taking a close look at mechanization.

One thing that we are looking at and that we are going to try this year is chemical suckering of the suckers on the grapevine trunks. This will reduce our labor costs, because the crews can then focus on the tops of the vines rather than the entire vines. We are using several different materials to see what works the best. This should save us some time and money.

We are applying chemicals and sulfur to the vines right now to protect against mildew. The crop level looks better than last year, but bloom won't happen until mid-May, so we are still off of that. Everything as of now looks better than last year.

Last year, we bought a new piece of property. It had an old vineyard that we tore out and we are leaving the field fallow this year. We will go back into grapes and have decided to plant chardonnay.

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay grower

Never second-guess Mother Nature. This February, things looked like we were going to be way short of rainfall for our hay, so we planted the spring crop about three weeks early. We had the best kill pre-plant in many years, and the herbicides worked in textbook fashion. Then came the March and April rains, and we are looking at a bumper crop.

In true farmer fashion, I don't count chickens before they're hatched. With the late rains come the potential for leaf rust in the hay, and some of the heavier crops have fallen down from the wind and rain. That can sink quality in a heartbeat. It still looks like a profitable year. I wish the dairies would start making some money and buoy the hay prices up.

Anytime hay crops are good, pasture is good also, so that will bring hay prices down a little. With little carryover from 2017's crop, that is not a big concern.

Vineyards are going full tilt with their activities. This morning, I saw a helicopter dusting some vines on ground too wet for tractor sprayers. I haven't seen that in April for many years.

Sonoma County is actively working to get our groundwater sustainability agencies, or GSAs, together and funded. Not sure we're doing the right thing or the right way, but we have to do something.

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By Pete Verburg, Stanislaus County dairy farmer

We’re still fighting low milk prices. That’s always topic No. 1, no matter who you meet with. Beef prices have gotten a little bit stronger. I’m not saying we can live on beef, but it’s part of our business.

We are completely done chopping all of our winter forage. Because we had such late rains, there’s a lot of winter forage around our area that didn’t look very good. The crop just sat there and struggled all winter trying to grow, but it had no moisture. We had months of no rain.

When it finally did start raining, it was a little too late already. For a lot of people, it was a little past time because they didn’t irrigate their ground with well water. A lot of them can’t do it. We went ahead and irrigated all of ours, so I had a pretty decent crop and nice yield. My neighbor didn’t do worth a darn. There was just not a lot of tonnage out there.

We just finished pre-irrigating all of the ground and soon we will be reworking the ground and getting our corn put in.

Milk production has been great because we did have a dry winter, which in turn means a lot less mastitis. The cows weren’t stressed out because of too much rain. Of course, we have free-stall barns, but even with free-stall barns, if it’s wet constantly, that moisture or humidity will get through the barns, and that affects the cows. They’re not going to produce less milk, but you’re going to have more issues with mastitis and breeding issues.

We’re lucky this year the cows were only in the free-stall barns for four months. Last year, when we had that real wet year, the cows were in the free-stall barns for five and a half months. The most comfortable place for a cow to be when not in a free-stall barn is in an open corral. But you can’t put them in an open corral when it’s raining.

Because we’re able to put cows in free-stall barns, we never see spring flush anymore. We used to increase milk production like crazy in the spring because you’ve got nice weather and the cows are outside in a dry corral. I don’t think our production increases by five pounds in the spring compared to what it was during the winter.

I’m anticipating that the federal milk order (for California) will go through. We’re a couple of weeks away from knowing if it passed or not. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass because the co-ops bloc voted. From the people that I know and how they feel about it, I’m fairly sure it’s going to pass. I’m going to be real surprised if it doesn’t.

We’ve got a great water year as far as the Modesto Irrigation District. They’re going to give us 42 inches.

Issue Date: May 9, 2018
By George Tibbetts, Colusa County rice grower

It wasn't a particularly wet winter, but the sequence of storms we had in April kept us out of the field until well into April. When we finally started ground work, the fields were still a bit wetter than I would have liked. Nevertheless, we started up to accelerate the drying process and prepare a nice seed bed for rice. In early May we started water in our first field, with four more to go. We are really scrambling to get all of our fields planted by the 15th of May, which is always our goal in order to take full advantage of the growing season.

Prices have firmed up from where they were a year ago. Most of the 2017 California rice crop has been sold or has been spoken for, so there is definitely not a surplus on hand to deal with as we head into producing the 2018 crop.

I've heard that we will have about 500,000 to 525,000 acres of rice in the state this year, which is pretty close to our historical average. Hopefully, yields will be up from the disappointing level we had last year.

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