From the Fields®

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

We are in our lemon and grapefruit harvest in the Imperial Valley. We have been very pleased with the quality of all our crops. The fall melons are some of the nicest that we have ever had. There was one storm that hit us in September that may have affected setting to a degree, so we don't have quite the heavy crop. But we have been free of insect pressure, and the weather for the most part has been dry and warm, and that is a very nice recipe for the harvest in the melons.

We have some fall corn that will start to be harvested later in November and then we start planting for the spring sweet corn and melons when we get to early December.

We also work with growers in the Central Valley and have been doing that for several years. It was a good year this year. There were a few periods where it got very hot and that tended to have a little bit of an effect on the quality of the melons. But once we got into September, the weather became more normal, and we were very pleased with the last five weeks of the melon harvest in the Central Valley.

We are doing well on the workforce. There seems to be more H-2A workers that find their way into certain crops and that helps to free up available labor. I think the balance is good right now.

The lemon crop in the lower desert is going to fall short in both size and volume from what they were predicting back in July. We all thought there would be a heavier crop, but the fruit seemed to struggle for size, which could have been the result of some very hot days that might have set the trees into a little bit of heat dormancy.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Tom Coleman, Fresno County pistachio grower

We had our second-largest crop ever. It being an "off" year, we were generally pleased with the size of the crop, but the quality was not as good as we might have hoped for. It's the largest off-year crop the industry has ever had. We were a little disappointed with the level of insect damage. I believe it probably had to do with a little wetter spring than normal and higher population of navel orangeworm.

One of the things we'll be looking toward, and we've already started on, is working on orchard sanitation, removing mummy nuts in the field. We're working on doing soil amendment applications. We're getting started on pre-emergent herbicide applications and we have started mechanical pruning, hedging of trees. Once we get the foliage off the trees, we'll start hand-pruning the trees.

I think we're getting better at controlling the radical swings in production and in general doing a heavier pruning going into an on-year, which is what we're going into right now. If you prune a little heavier now, you'll offset your drop in production for the 2019 crop.

The market is strong. Prices look good. We're shipping at a little higher rate to both the EU and to China currently.

New plantings are continuing at a slightly slower pace than in past years. It's partially due to the lack of available, suitable land and people's concern about the groundwater sustainability act coming in. My advice to growers is to only buy property that's in an irrigation district, because at least you've got more than one possible source of water. We have about 240,000 bearing acres right now and about another 75,000 acres that are nonbearing. So that's quite a bit of nonbearing acres that's yet to come into production.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Zack Stuller, Tulare County diversified grower

We just finished up harvesting walnuts. Things look pretty good. The Tulare variety was a little bit off. The Chandlers were OK; they're as projected.

On the citrus side, we started harvesting in the middle of October on the early lemons and picking the early navels. We're starting copper sprays, getting ready for the rainy season on the citrus. Lemons look average. On navels and mandarins, they look to be lighter than last year. Last year was an outstanding crop. The navels are pretty light this year. The quality is good. Even through last year's really rainy season, when brown and clear rot becomes an issue, we made it through just fine.

We finished up harvesting black-eyed peas at the beginning of October. We didn't make any money. The yield was a little lighter than projected. That's due to the cool spring we had and the hot summer. The vines grew a little bit too much and didn't fruit as much as what I would've liked in late May and June. July was just crazy hot, and the crop was stressed.

We also just finished harvesting our kiwis in the middle of October. All our vines are young, but quality was good and yield was over what we projected.

We're going to start pruning our kiwis and our nuts as soon as the vines and the trees go dormant. We're going to continue pruning all winter long. With citrus, as fields are harvested, we'll prune those. We pick citrus all winter long, so as it's harvested, we prune each block.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Rien Doornenbal, San Joaquin County dairy farmer

The weather has really cooperated with us this fall. Harvesting corn for silage finished up in September. Planting of the winter forage crop finished up last week. Compost for bedding has been made, dried, piled up and covered. Woodchip bedding has been put out in the open lot corral. We're now hoping for a very wet winter again.

This summer, we had a lot of days that the temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. We lost some milk production. Certainly, it wasn't as hard on cows as in the heat wave of 2006.

We did not expect milk production to rebound as well as it has this fall. Other dairymen are telling me that they also have rebounded from the heat quite well. We're actually back up to slightly more production than we had a year ago on a per-cow basis.

Milk cows normally go down in production in the fall because it's more challenging to maintain production, but we always have to compare our production to the same season in the previous year. We can't compare our fall production to our spring production, because by nature cows produce more milk in the spring. We call that the spring flush.

In the meantime, we are hoping the Quota Implementation Plan that dairymen are voting for passes. That will allow the industry to take a good look at the final rules the U.S. Department of Agriculture will propose for a federal milk marketing order for California. Hopefully, the final proposal will be good for dairy producers.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

After a cool first half of summer and then a normal second half, crop quality was good and supplies plentiful. This created marginal to poor prices during the summer for most vegetable commodities.

With the recent hurricanes in the South and Southeast, there was hope that the unfortunate misery of others might create opportunities for California growers. At this point in time, there may have been a slight bump in prices due to these adverse weather events but we are still waiting to see if damage to young crops or delays in planting will have an effect on prices.

More recently, an extended heat wave—with San Luis Obispo County breaking temperature records as well as being the hottest place in the country—did burn many of our more tender-leafed crops, such as spinach and leaf lettuce. Younger plants may grow out of the damage, and we should still be able to harvest them.

In some crops that were ready to harvest, there was significant damage. Also, due to the increased frequency of irrigation at that time to try to keep the crops cooled and hydrated, there seemed to be an increase of rot due to the warm, humid conditions.

On the brighter side, we did see a spike in prices for some commodities such as iceberg lettuce, spinach and broccoli.

Issue Date: October 25, 2017
By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

We are in the middle of rice harvest that is going full speed. We've had north winds in recent days, which has really kept harvest moving along. We are well over halfway so far. Overall yields fluctuate, depending on varieties. Our short-grain varieties are average and our medium-grain ranges from 5 to 10 percent off from averages over the past couple years. So, we are seeing yields down a little bit.

A lot of guys around us are also harvesting and moving along quite nicely as well. Once harvest wraps up, we will get our fields ready for winter water. We have several fields with water on already, and we are seeing quite a variety of different birds migrating through and sitting on the rice fields. There are a lot of geese and ducks, as well as a lot of shorebirds. We are gearing up for the fall.

It's the fall time of year, which is a great time of year when I really enjoy being out there in the farm and in the fields.

Around us there are tree crops being harvested. Walnut harvest is in full swing. The prunes and peaches have been wrapped up for a while.

We have had a decent water year, but there was a lot of rain this spring that delayed planting by two to three weeks. In addition, it caused us to fallow some fields in the bypass where there was water on the fields and we could not get in there to plant in a timely manner. So, our acres were down by a few hundred because of the wet winter. We saw that happening throughout the rice country up here in the northern part of the state. Overall rice acreage in the state was down, just because of the wet spring that delayed planting.

We are looking forward to this coming winter to see what Mother Nature brings.Hopefully, we will have a normal winter and we can get everything planted next spring.

Issue Date: October 25, 2017
By April Mackie, Monterey County agricultural consultant

In the Salinas and San Juan valleys, the season is either coming to an end or just getting ready to plant the last crop of the season.

One may think fall is when the season starts to slow down and winter is downtime for agriculture. Quite the contrary. Many of the farming operations around here move to Yuma, Ariz., to produce lettuce and leafy greens during the winter months. The Yuma Valley provides moderate daytime temperatures that create optimum growing conditions for lettuce and leafy greens.

Here in the Salinas and San Juan valleys, one may notice a few lush green crops growing. Many of these are late-season lettuces, broccoli and cauliflower. The strawberry industry is still producing tasty berries, but harvest will halt around the first of November or whenever we are lucky enough to receive our first large rain.

After the rain, many of the fields will be bare dirt or covered in plastic in preparation for a fall planting of berries. In the strawberry fields, workers have been staying busy prepping beds, laying drip tape and now planting strawberry transplants. In the leafy-green fields, large-track tractors are disking up old crops, laser-leveling ground and bedding up fields in preparation for our winter planting of vegetable crops.

This is also the opportune moment for growers to implement water quality and field sustainability projects: planting buffer strips, transitioning old irrigation to more efficient methods, clearing of brush from potential flood-threatened areas (rivers, streams, etc), planning development for technical trials, and other sediment/water quality management practices.

There are many regulatory deadlines during the winter months. Updates for water quality regulations, water use reporting, CARB regulations and preparation for upcoming food safety audits will be upon us.

There may not be many green crops visible from the nearby roads, but farmers continue to manage to stay busy to ensure that their natural resourses are managed in a manner that continues to sustain our environment while providing fertile soil to produce the safest, cheapest and most abundant food supply in the world, despite over-regulation.

Issue Date: October 25, 2017
By James Durst, Yolo County diversified grower

I woke up this morning with a sound I cherish: silence. After weeks of north winds and the constant noise and dust associated with it, the silence was refreshing.

We are still harvesting fresh-market tomatoes on this third week in October and will probably go through next week as well. Flavor and quality are excellent.

We continue to harvest and sell winter squashes. Most are picked up from the fields and stored in bins awaiting sales. Pricing is holding well.

Overall, the season has been trying on us and required all ingenuity, experience and patience to see it through to the end.

Extended periods of high temperatures, especially in late June, affected fruit set, showing up in late July and early August with reduced harvest numbers in all tomatoes.

Watermelons got off to a rocky start with early plantings affected by late rains and interrupted or uneven pollination. But production beginning with the third planting stabilized.

We are now finishing up on most ground prep and amendment additions on fields where harvest is complete. We were fortunate to have adequate water this year. We are pre-irrigating some fields to get a jump on weeds in fields to be planted to grain this fall and alfalfa in the spring.

Like most growers, labor has been challenging this year. This is the first year in 30 years we did not have a waiting list to draw on for supplemental labor. We found ourselves short harvest crew members and left product in the field. We are currently working on strategies to see this does not happen in 2018.

We are refreshed by the cool fall mornings, exquisite sunrises and sunsets, and the smell of first rains.

Issue Date: October 25, 2017
By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County cattle rancher

We are into fall routine, so we have most of the irrigating done and the growing season is nearly finished. Right now, we are gathering cattle off the Forest Service allotments. We are getting ready to wean the calves and process everything. And now we move into winter mode.

As far as resources and production, this has been a pretty good year. We had plenty of water, which we really enjoyed, and there were timely rains. We have avoided some of the unexpected things that can happen in agriculture. We just had a stress-free year, which was nice for a change.

The markets have been a bit of a challenge on the income side. They haven't really fluctuated a lot, but they are not giving us huge margins. But there is opportunity and it seems like if we have the right cattle for sale at the right times, it has worked OK. Overall, the cattle market is expected to continue to soften over the next few years, as more and more cattle come to market and national cow herd numbers provide more supply. We are just trying to be very cost conscious and efficient.

We do have a grass-fed market that we are developing. It has been pretty good this year. From last fall into the spring, we weren't sure of what that market was going to be. There were some things happening that were beyond our control and somewhat beyond our awareness. The buyers just weren't active. But since spring, we found a couple other markets that we were able to tap into and the demand for the grass-fed cattle we were producing rebounded. We could have sold more if we had more. But it is still just a small part of the business relative to our total income, and being somewhat of a specialty market, I suppose it is going to be that way for a while.

On the flip side, it is difficult to put all your resources into a specialty market because when the market doesn't seem to be there, you are essentially stuck and facing huge losses or continuing to inventory a product that you don't need.

Looking forward, we are encouraged by the grass-fed market, but I suspect that we will always have some cattle to sell in the conventional market and try to make the balance work for us year in and year out.

Issue Date: October 11, 2017
By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County pumpkin grower

We are swamped here at our pumpkin patch, but we are doing well. We are glad to have the cool weather come in. We had to harvest some of our pumpkins early this year.

We shipped some overseas to Singapore and we shipped some to Southern California in September. This is the first time we shipped overseas, and we sell a lot of pumpkins here at our pumpkin patch.

We opened the pumpkin patch and corn maze last week and that is going very well. We plant about 50 different varieties of pumpkins. People are coming out, and it gives us a chance to interact with urban people and tell them about pumpkins and how they can be used for much more than just decorations.

We are really glad to be out of the extremely hot weather, and fortunately we had plenty of water. It was the toughest year to grow pumpkins that I ever experienced. So, we are glad to see the cool weather come in here.

This year, the corn maze design is kind of a dinosaur theme. We have a couple different dinosaurs and a palm tree. It looks really good. My kids design it and cut it out, so it is a lot of fun. Then on Nov. 1, we will harvest the corn for silage.

We went from a really wet winter and spring to an extremely hot summer, so farming had its challenges. But it is all good now.

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