From the Fields® - August 7, 2013

Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice farmer

As the month of July came to a close, it was as good a time as any to reflect a little on the portion of the 2013 rice-growing season that is behind us and what may lie ahead.

As we generally have to plant later here in the Colusa Basin east of Maxwell and Delevan, having field access earlier this spring was initially a welcome change from the prior couple of years. Looking back, though, if we were trading wet fields and later planting dates for the virtual absence of those wicked north winds we again experienced this spring, I might have to give it a hard look if given a choice. I must confess I'd nearly forgotten the winds tend to be part of the package in a "normal" rice-planting season.

On balance, our medium-grain rice crop looks pretty decent, with our first-week-of-May plantings actively heading now. My initial observation is that the panicle size is good, what I would consider normal or better for the varieties that we planted this year.

Like increasing numbers of growers in our area, we see more weed biotype resistance to our traditional herbicide tools. This season, trying to control the small-flower umbrellaplant was particularly vexing.

We are anticipating getting harvest underway a week to 10 days earlier than last season, which should allow us the opportunity to get our post-harvest work done. After that, we'll be hoping for a successful marketing year, a sensible farm bill, and adequate rainfall and snowpack for the coming year.

 

Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

The past couple of years have been a profitable combination of yield and prices for my farm. Not so this year.

While the hay prices are comparable with last year's, the yield on our spring-planted crops was way down. Due to the lack of rain, I'm estimating a 30 percent to 40 percent loss from our historic average. The fall-planted crops are yielding near normal.

With the hay all baled, we're now focusing on grain harvest. Oats are done; wheat and barley threshing is the priority.

Along with the grain harvest comes the straw, which is in good demand and short supply. I'm trying hard to fill the orders of my regular hay customers and I've had to turn away many new customers. It looks like the barns will be empty long before next year's crop comes ripe.

I had one hay field certified as organic this year. Lots of paperwork, not the type of hay I care to grow, but it opens a new market.

 

Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

We've had a pretty good growing season for our grapes. There has been hot weather, but it has cooled off now.

The crop looks about average to maybe a bit less than average, tonnage-wise. Berry size is moving along and we may be a week or so ahead in crop development.

Veraison in pinot noir is about 60 percent complete, so we're getting closer to harvest. I anticipate we'll begin harvest about the first week in September. For the other red varieties, it probably won't be until the middle to end of October. I know people have been talking about things being early, but we still have a ways to go to harvest. The crops are looking about on schedule.

One bad thing about the heat is that it can bring on mites and we've had to treat for them in some areas. We don't have to treat often on the Central Coast, maybe every four or five years, and this is one of those years.

In Santa Barbara, we're in pretty good shape for groundwater. But it hasn't really rained for about three years or so. The public perception is that winegrapes take all the water, but that isn't really true. It's hard to convince a property owner next to a vineyard, however, whose well goes dry that the grape roots aren't touching the water.

We've struggled with labor all year and I'm concerned about it. On the Central Coast, we have a lot of strawberries and hoop-house berries, along with a big, new tomato greenhouse. These crops require year-round workers and we have more demand for labor now because of shifts in crops.

 

Mat Conant, Sutter County walnut grower

Walnuts look like they'll be early. Up north of us, they're applying growth regulator to help finish ripening and that means they could start harvesting as early as Aug. 15. Normally, walnut harvest around here starts about Sept. 10.

Fortunately, the price for walnuts is pretty good. The Chinese are back in the market buying walnuts. Crop quality is good despite the hot days we went through—not too much sunburn.

We haven't had too much trouble with husk fly or codling moth. So far things are looking good, but we won't know for sure until we get the crop in the barn.

 

Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

The infestation of the brown stinkbug in our cotton is upon us in an unrelenting fashion. The last known BSB infestation in the low desert was 1963, according to University of Arizona Cooperative Extension records. With insecticide costs of $75 per acre, it may not make economic sense to try to mature a top crop. What does this mean for cotton production in the low desert? This crop may see yields drop 20 percent to 45 percent.

This BSB may not only devastate this current cotton crop, but may force growers to seriously consider the economic viability of future cotton production in the West. As usual, the whitefly and lygus bug continue to be a problem in the late summer cotton. We continue to treat for them as well. High nighttime temperatures continue to initiate additional fruit shed.

We are in the fifth cutting of alfalfa. With heavy pressure from leafhopper and cutworm, traditional insecticide is not providing as effective control as previous years. The summer slump is in full effect, causing yields to drop by as much as 40 percent. We are starting to prepare ground for new alfalfa plantings on Oct. 1. The relentless heat of summer is taking its toll on crops and manpower morale. The relief of fall is anxiously anticipated.

 

Jan Garrod, Santa Clara County winegrape grower and stable operator

We have a vineyard, tasting room and stable in the mountains above Saratoga. What many people don't realize is there are 65 wineries scattered throughout the hills above the Santa Clara Valley. We're in veraison now and the crop seems to be ripening a little ahead of schedule, but not much.

We've been farming here since 1893 and originally the farm was planted to fruit orchards, but we've transitioned to winegrape vineyards and now grow seven varietals from the four principal grape-growing regions of France.

Basically, everything around us is built out now and there are little backyard vineyards popping up all over the place, which surprisingly is turning this area back into a viable mountain agricultural community. It's a good thing because the small vineyards add more local grapes to nearby wineries.

I'm an organic grower, which is different than a lot of growers in this area. Fortunately, our vineyards are isolated and we don't have a lot of insect issues. But one of the problems we have farming in an urban area is how to handle pests—gophers, ground squirrels and coyotes. With so many neighbors, it's hard to control damage to the vineyards and grapes using traditional methods.

And we do worry about the number of insect pest infestations turning up in urban communities on the valley floor. Fortunately, we have a great agricultural commissioner who acts immediately to address the pest problems. We're always working on improving public relations and outreach to our urban neighbors.

With our pleasure stable operation, we're offering trail rides, lessons, training and horse boarding. We've got about 200 head and grow our own hay on our ranch in Lassen County. We're hoping for a third cutting before it gets cold.