From the Fields®

Issue Date: October 17, 2018
By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

There could be a mediocre El Niño this winter. They are up to 60 percent as far as forecasting that and it has been strengthening a little bit over the last few months. So that brings some optimism to all of California. El Niño tends to bring above-average rainfall. We would love a repeat of the winter of 2016-17.

The Central Valley is wrapping up their melon harvest and we just started our melon harvest, which is a little earlier than planned by about five days. That is an indication that August and September were above-average temperatures. The quality is good, even though we did have some rain down here.

We grow a long-shelf-life melon. We also grow some extended-shelf-life melons, so we have a mixture of melons that fit into these categories. When the breeders work on these different characteristics, they are trying to accommodate the growers/shippers while maintaining good flavor and high solubles for the consumer.

We are continuing to harvest lemons; that started in late August and the quality is good. We think we have about an average crop in terms of yield and we are very pleased with the quality of the fruit. There is demand for lemons right now, so that is positive.

We are also growing winter vegetables—the broccoli, cauliflower and the leaf items— and they are all looking pretty good. Most growers are pleased with what they see in the vegetable fields.

Labor seems to be status quo right now. There seems to be more of the H-2A workers who have migrated into the workforce, so I would like to believe that the labor situation is in a little better position than we were in two or three years ago.

Issue Date: October 17, 2018
By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

We are wrapping up all the summer activities. We have been extracting honey over the last couple months and most of that is in the barrels. We have honey orders that we fill from that stock.

The bees have been treated for mites and we are in the process of placing them in winter locations. We are also entering discussions regarding pollination for next year.

At this time of year, we always assess whether to expand. We know we are going into a new season. We are status quo on one hand, but we prepare ourselves to move in another direction if we have to do that.

The demand for bees for almond pollination, which is the first tree crop that happens in the new year, seems to be that they will need more bees. With new plantings coming into production, right now I don't know whether there will be a shortage of bees or too many bees.

In California, we had some extremely hot weather, which cut back on the food sources that bees normally get, whether it is for honey production or for sustaining the hive. I don't know how that is working out. Also, the many fires destroyed a lot of colonies because of the location they were in. The damage assessment isn't in yet. So, there could be a shortage of bees next year.

Honey production wasn't too great. A lot of that was because of all the smoke from the fires that curtailed a lot of photosynthesis on plants. Those plants produce blooms and flowers for honey production. The bees didn't act quite right in that situation because it was kind of like semi-darkness and that is something that we very rarely experience. It is kind of a fluke thing, but it did happen.

Issue Date: October 17, 2018
By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

We are hoping to wrap up almond harvest in the next few weeks. We have been busy shaking, sweeping and picking up since the beginning of August. It has been a harvest year where we are rushing to finish a variety or field and then end up waiting for the next variety because they are still green.

We had a good stretch of 100-degree-plus days into August, but it's cooled off the last few weeks. The cooler weather has been delaying the almond maturity and kept the nuts greener, prohibiting us from shaking them on schedule.

We are gearing up orchard clean-up and leveling. We have been getting ready for postharvest fertilizing and irrigation.

Issue Date: October 17, 2018
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

It's mid-October and rice harvest is in full swing. We are about two-thirds done, and from what I can tell our neighbors are all at about the same stage.

Harvest got off to a late start this year, a week or maybe 10 days later than I would have expected, given our planting date in the first half of May. But yields have been average to good, about 5-10 percent above the disappointing yields from last year. The field we planted last, which we are just harvesting now, is coming in about 10 percent above normal. I attribute that to the fact that the field was in row crops for the past several years and thus more fertile and less weedy than typical old rice ground. Nevertheless, I have heard anecdotally that around the valley the later-planted fields are yielding better than the earlier ones. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but if it is it might be due to the hot weather we had during the flowering period of the earlier-planted fields.

There is much less lodging this year than last, at least in our area, so harvest is going more smoothly. The straw seems greener than it usually is at harvest time, and our fields were wetter than normal when we started up. This led to some minor rutting problems, but no big deal.

The next big job when harvest is complete is dealing with all of the straw. On our farm, that means chopping the straw and disking it in and, assuming water is available, flooding the fields up for the winter. I really like it when the ducks and geese come back.

Issue Date: September 26, 2018
By Mike Jani , Mendocino County forester

Regardless of where you work in the state of California, the one and only thing that's on people's minds who own trees and forestland in California is the fire season and the extreme destruction that has occurred already early in the year. We have a long time left before fire season is over. Many landowners have suffered extreme losses of their timber asset, especially in Mendocino County and the Sierra.

This is going to affect timber prices through the rest of the purchasing season and it will have impact on timber prices—particularly in Douglas fir and pine—through next year, because if there's a rash of material that is going to be developed once these fires are put out, people go to salvage that timber.

The remediation on these burns has just begun. In some cases, fires are still smoldering. Between the state/Cal Fire and the forester, we're just beginning to see what may come.

Keep in mind, this is on top of the fires that burned last year, and there's still material coming in off of those burns. The mills are very full with salvage material from last year's burns and looking at this avalanche of potential material coming off this one salvage operation to begin again. I don't think they started yet because the fires are still smoldering.

Maybe the only good thing that can be said about what we've learned from these fires is that all of us who work out in the woods—our loggers and landowners—we just have to maintain vigilance until the winter season begins. There's no room for mistakes on our operation.

I think everybody in California is wide awake to this issue right now, even those who haven't suffered from fire on their own lands. The smoke that all Californians experienced this summer has everybody on edge.

What we as Farm Bureau members and in the forest industry are looking at is just vigilance with the people who are working on logging operations right now. When we get into periods of extreme heat and wind, I know many—not only in Mendocino County but also in the Sierra—are going through early operational shutdowns during peak-fire weather. We don't work into the afternoons if we have extreme temperatures. When using equipment that is involved in logging, we make sure that sparks aren't being generated and that there's adequate after-hours staffing to make sure there aren't ignitions that had started during the day that smoldered. Everybody is going through those steps right now. The contract loggers that work on our properties and others are all being extremely careful and taking those steps.

Issue Date: September 26, 2018
By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County cattle rancher

Our cows and calves on U.S. Forest Service grazing permits are doing very well. We are providing supplemental water using trailers and tanks on extensive rangelands. Calves are growing and cows are maintaining body condition. The costs to provide supplemental water are quite high. Hopefully, we get some environmental kudos for providing fresh, clean water for all the wildlife out on the forests.

On our irrigated ranches, pasture rotation of fat cattle finishing is right on target to provide truly grass-fed and finished beef to niche markets. It isn't simple, as all agriculturalists understand, balancing resource availability with market demands.

We have worked all year to grow forage to feed our cowherd over the winter season. We start bringing our cows and their babies off the ranges in September and October. Water availability is always a concern; we work to make the most of what Mother Nature provides.

Our local Food Fest was a great success, giving many folks a chance to see local products and introduce them to stewardship of natural resources and have fun in the process.

As we move into the fall season, we will gather cows and calves off the rangelands and bring them to our home-base properties. We will wean, sort and sell or keep many different groups of cattle. We have many cattle already committed to markets, mostly innovative, niche markets. Some we need to keep and market traditionally or to families that want to serve a healthy local beef product.

It has been extremely dry and we continue to pray for rain and moisture as we move into fall and winter.

Issue Date: September 26, 2018
By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We only have two things going on right now. First, we are right in the middle of harvest. We just started on the reds and got through all the whites and so far, we are probably running a little bit above average on tonnage.

Every wine writer and all of the media claim that "this is an exceptional year" and I just chuckle at that, because how can it be exceptional if every year is exceptional? But this year, from everyone's perspective, is really going to be a good vintage. For the first time in recent memory, the maturity and flavor of the grapes is actually above the sugar content. So, this year is truly going to be a good vintage.

We are fortunate where we are that we have an abundance of water. The season was warm for long periods of time, but we never got any excruciatingly high temperatures. For the last couple weeks, we have been enjoying cool nights with temperatures into the 40s. That also puts a lot of body into the wine, because the winegrapes enjoy warm days and cool nights.

The other activity that we have going on is that we are still doing some training on young vineyards that are growing.

This has been one of our slowest years ever for vineyard development, primarily because the market is in equilibrium right now and there are a lot of other crops that are more attractive with regard to labor and not having the hassle with wineries at harvest. A lot of growers are putting in almonds and walnuts.

Issue Date: September 26, 2018
By John Vevoda, Humboldt County organic dairy farmer

I'm hauling hay. I buy it. At the beginning of the week, I was hauling it out of the valley, but at the end of the week, I go up to Klamath Falls and haul out of there.

It's getting real dry. It's typical of fall. Pretty soon, the guys who have corn will be chopping corn. It's that time of year. Most of the guys out in the hills ship their calves. In our ranch out there, we've already shipped calves.

Farmers up in the Klamath Basin got shorted on water and it affects us down here, because a lot of our organic hay comes out of there. Guys who do have the hay want a very high price. Now, with fuel prices and everything the California Legislature has done, it has really jacked up the price. It compounds things because our milk prices are down, even on the organic side. I hate to be negative, but it's starting to become pretty trying. You have a lot of large herds in other states. I know because I've driven by them.

This is a different game than what I'm used to. I've been through low milk prices, but it was always when we were conventional. Now that we're organic, I didn't envision the big herds jumping into it like they have.

We're trying to weather the storm. We're turning off the irrigation as soon as we can, because the nights are starting to get cold, and as much as we're paying for irrigation—$18,000 a month—we're not getting a return on it. Last fall, we put in a new pivot and that has really paid dividends on irrigation this year. My son can run it from his telephone. It has an electric motor on it and he can control it with his telephone. There's no manual labor. We put in new free stalls, and that helped tremendously. There are other things we want to do, but we can't afford it. We're just trying to save labor where we can and be as efficient as possible.

We did reduce our herd, just like our processor wanted us to do. And now our processor is turning around and saying, "Can you produce a little bit more? We're not going to pay a full price for it, but you can produce a little bit more?" We're not yo-yos here; you can't just turn it on and turn it off. So it makes it really difficult. We just have to wait for new heifers. We're a closed herd, so we just deal with what we have. But our cull rate was over 50 percent, so now we won't be culling quite as heavy as we were, to see if we can increase production. It'll probably take six to eight months to get to the production they want.

Issue Date: September 12, 2018
By Jeff Frey, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

We just got over a big heat spell down here. That made working in the fields rather difficult. We sent people home early because temperatures were in the triple digits in some places and our employees are just not used to working in that kind of heat. We did get a little bit behind, but we are catching up now, with bird netting, finishing our final sprays, going through veraison on our early varieties such as pinot noir and pinot grigio.

We are starting to gear up for harvest, which we think will start a little later this year, probably in mid-September. The crop levels look good for most varieties. Some look normal and others look normal to a bit better than normal.

There hasn't been much activity in wineries looking for grapes, which is disheartening for growers who have any grapes for sale. For most varieties, there isn't a lot of interest right now, which isn't good. For the grapes that are contracted, the wineries seem to be paying attention to it.

Labor has been short all season. We have been getting by, but for the whole season we could have probably used 10 percent to 15 percent more people in our crews. I don't see that getting any better. There is some mechanical and more people moving toward mechanical harvesting. This year, we saw more leafing being done mechanically. So that is helping some. But we do have a lot of vineyards that are not set up for mechanical work, so that does require a lot of labor.

The weather is good. We only had slight damage from the heat spell and I think everyone weathered it fairly well.

We do have some olives for oil and they look terrible this year. Not just us, but it seems like every olive grove doesn't have much fruit on it at all. We can't figure out why this is happening.

Issue Date: September 12, 2018
By Tom Chandler, Fresno County orchardist

We finished harvesting our Nonpareil variety almonds and they are all about 30 percent less than last year, based on truckloads we delivered to the processor.

Hull rot this year is a much bigger problem than in years past. Our more mature almond orchards with higher-density plantings appear to have the most hull rot.

The almond market is stalled out because of the trade wars. So, we are all concerned about this year's almond price outlook.

The peach and plum harvest is still going well. The crop size and quality of fruit this year has been great. The market for fresh-market peaches has been good in both the early and mid parts of the season. The fresh peach market has softened a lot recently due to the typical supply build-up because Southeast peach production is in full swing. Also, the higher cost for trucking product back east caused by the stricter regulations on truck driver hours of operation has not helped.

Last week, we cut the canes on our dried-on-the-vine raisin grapes in order to begin their long drying process. Our Fiesta variety raisin block appears to have mildew problems again this year, but the Thompson raisin blocks appear to have a good, clean crop. Some growers in our area are just starting to pick and lay down their Thompson raisins for the tray-dried system.

Our surface water supplies from our irrigation district shut off July 30. Fortunately, this turned out to be a fair water supply year for the farmers in our area, at about 70 percent of a full water run from the Kings River.

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