From the Fields® - October 19, 2011

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County lemon grower

Lemon harvest is pretty much over for us this year. There isn't a lot of fruit left on the trees.

With the wet spring and cool summer, weather had a good effect on the lemon crop. The fruit has been large and since we're paid by the box, it took less fruit to fill more boxes.

We're doing fall nutritional sprays on the lemons right now, getting ready for the next crop.

And avocados are also done for the season. The avocado crop was light this year, but the size was good. With so little fruit this year, after last year's bumper crop, the trees put all their energy into a smaller crop.

But the fruit size was just beautiful and prices to growers were good.

It was unseasonably hot for us last week, but the week before that, we had an inch and a half of rain. Now it's in the 100s.

The trees are freaking out with the temperature swings. On a brighter note, the rain meant we haven't had to irrigate because there's still enough moisture in the ground.

If the high temperatures persist and low-humidity continues from a mild Santa Ana wind weather condition, we're certainly going to have to start irrigating soon.

As usual, we are at Mother Nature's beck and call.

Labor wasn't a big issue for us this year, partly because we had a smaller avocado crop, but also because the continued sluggishness in construction meant workers weren't being drawn away from agriculture.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

We had anywhere from four-tenths to over an inch of rain down here and after a few days everyone was pretty much back to normal. There is a lot of picking of the acala cotton now. The pima is still a ways off. Everything is at least a couple weeks late. The crop looks OK.

We have just wrapped up our last hay cutting this year. We got nine cuttings, which was about average. The hay prices are good right now, but we are dairymen also, so I kind of wear two hats when it comes to feed prices.

All commodity prices are good right now.

We had our second good water year, as last summer was also significantly above normal. With back-to-back good water years, we should see some really nice increases in our underground water levels when we take our spring measurements.

By Joe Martinez, Yolo County nut grower

All the crops in our area are running about two weeks later than usual because of the cool spring. That was true for the apricots, peaches, prunes and pistachios.

We're finishing pistachio harvest now, which is the latest we've ever harvested pistachios. I would say that in our area, 20 percent to 30 percent of the almonds are still to be harvested.

We pretreated our walnuts to begin harvest and then got at least three-quarters of an inch of rain. We couldn't get into the fields to harvest. The conditions were wet, the harvesters were getting plugged up. It has been a slow process. Things are looking better, but there are still a variety of problems, depending on where they are and how wet they got.

Right now, we're doing the best we can, but harvest is very slow.

At this point, the later-variety walnuts are ready to shake, but we haven't harvested the early varieties yet. If we could get some north wind, that would dry things out and we can start harvesting more quickly again.

We're shorthanded right now. We need to hire about five more people. If we can get the pistachios done, then that crew can shift to the walnuts.

Basically, with this harvest we're just mudding it out. Give us some good drying weather and then let it rain.

On top of that, we're working on the zoning ordinance. Luckily that has been postponed to November. Our Farm Bureau has already approved 103 of the 107 revisions. We've only got four left where we're not in agreement.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified grower

We have had what I would say were fairly typical late summer, early fall growing conditions. We had a couple of three- to five-day periods over the past month or so where we were very much on the warm side. Two significant southern storm fronts have rolled through, one the first week of October that hit in the southeastern quadrant of the Imperial Valley and one a couple weeks earlier that was more general throughout the area. Once again, we continue to fight through typical lower desert fall weather conditions.

We will be starting to harvest our fall melon crop in the Yuma District. We are actually pleased with our crop for the most part. We see good quality and, with this type of weather, we are at or above normal temperature conditions right now and that bodes well for the melons.

Of course, we just really want to remind consumers throughout our country that here in California we have never had to deal with the bacteria issue that occurred in Colorado. That has slowed demand for the fall melons, but we are noticing that we are starting to gain some momentum back as the consumers gain more confidence that the melons are fine. We do everything in our power to produce safe products.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We have had some freezing overnight temperatures in the past couple of weeks and some of the vine tips and leaves got burned. The good thing is the grapes in low-lying areas of our vineyards were already picked.

Up in the foothills, we have a shorter growing season at this higher elevation. Sometimes it takes longer to get the grapes ripe and I estimate there's still a good 35 percent of the grapes on the vine in the region.

We've been planning through what has been a cool summer for an early fall. We've let the grass grow longer to suck out the excessive ground moisture, thinning the canopy and limiting irrigations.

We're about 95 percent picked, but still have some hearty barbera and petite syrah on the vines. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we'll get those grapes in before we have a freeze, but we've been having trouble meeting the needed sugar levels.

Although we had about three inches of rain last week, we also had steady afternoon winds that helped dry the grapes out and prevent bunch rot.

But, one thing that's unique about the crop this year is the deep color of the grapes due to the cold spring. We have the darkest grapes ever. I've never seen a year like this.

For consumers, 2011 is the year of the darkest dark reds. The cool spring made for small berries, which concentrate color. We're looking forward to bottling and releasing.

Yields are another matter. I've never seen so much shatter, which are spring rains that break off the flowers. It was especially bad with the zinfandels and primativo, maybe as much as 40 percent crop loss for us.

Lower yields make for better demand for winegrapes this year and better prices for growers. There is a very strong demand this year for Amador County zinfandel grapes.

Growers up here are receiving $1,500 a ton this year, compared to several years ago when zinfandel growers were getting far less than that. But this year, wineries are trying to fill bottles with a smaller crop and very little unsold inventory.

And, this year harvest was more challenging because we don't have the workers we need. We couldn't find the labor. Those who'd worked on crews before are afraid now. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is going out and picking people up as they're waiting to go to work.

Workers just aren't showing up. Our farm labor contractor has found it very challenging to find workers this year.