From the Fields® - September 18, 2013

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By Tonetta Gladwin, Merced County fig grower

Fresh fig season is about to conclude. This is the earliest stop date I've ever had, and I've been doing this for 23 years. We had a very hot spring with more than 20 days of over 100 degrees and lack of rain in the winter. That brought the crop on early, so we have an early stop date.

The quality is very good. Demand was very good. The consumer, though, sometimes doesn't understand that we are largely predicated on weather, and so when the crop was early, the consumer wasn't ready for it, and now that it's concluding, they're a little bit disappointed that there are no figs. And that's something that's very different this year. I've actually had people yell at me, "I can't believe you don't have figs. I've driven all this way. I get them every year at this time. What do you mean? Can't I go get some?" I just have to explain that it's not like making chairs. We are really influenced by weather conditions.

Production numbers were similar to last year, which were average. They weren't exceedingly good production, but it was average production for my historicals. I've kept historicals for 13 years, and so they were average for the 13 years, but not exceedingly so.

Being a longtime fig farmer in the area (I'm third generation), never have we seen acreage so small. There was always a lot of acreage of figs. Urban sprawl, especially in Fresno, has decreased our acreage in the last 10 years. And in the last three or four years, we've seen a huge depletion of our acreage because of the popularity of nut crops. So we're seeing a lot of people pull figs and they're planting nuts.

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County orchardist

Summer is winding down and soon the start of walnut harvest will be going strong. Prunes, peaches, tomatoes, almonds and others have started and in some cases are almost complete. The other crops have been early and I see walnuts being early as well. With some early summer heat and such a dry winter here in Northern California, we used more water for irrigation than it seems we normally use. All summer long, we tried to keep up with moisture. Currently, the final irrigations, mowing and spraying of weeds are taking place.

Insect pressure seemed high for mites and husk fly, while codling moth pressure was not too bad. Sunburn also looks to be low in percentage, considering the couple of hot spells we had. However, we will really be able to tell when the crop starts to come in.

The market for this year's crop looks to remain strong. Consumers continue to find new ways to integrate walnuts into their diet as more and more studies show a diet with nuts in it is beneficial. Foreign markets continue to open and grow, making the California walnut market stronger than ever.

As harvest starts, it is a great time of year for those in the agricultural industry to enjoy the rewards of their labor. I wish everyone a successful and stressless harvest.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County tree crop grower

We're done with picking avocados here in Ventura County and pretty much done with lemons. We had a huge push earlier in the season and were challenged with a tight labor supply.

We had fruit going on the ground because of the lack of pickers in July. That waste was difficult to see.

But we got a large lemon crop off and a very large avocado crop off. That's good. Now we're doing a cleanup pick in the lemons.

We've been doing it around here—getting our crops to market. Now we're irrigating, since there's no rain, and getting ready for fall.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified farmer

We had a program this year that addressed concerns about aflatoxin in yellow corn for feed, which has been a problem in the valley. The state lowered its aflatoxin standards down to 20 parts per billion, while the rest of the U.S. is at 300 ppb.

The change was made to make sure feed going to California dairies meets requirements to protect the milk supply. That protective level, however, isn't necessary for beef cattle, which can consume feed up to 300 ppb with no effects whatsoever.

We have a lot of beef production in the low desert, but we haven't been able to grow any corn for feed. Some of our farmers have worked with the state, and the standard has been adjusted in a pilot program that allows us to go up to the 300 ppb that other states allow, but it can only go to a feedlot.

Growers have to sign up with a feedlot to deliver the grain and the state is monitoring the situation carefully. We've just finished the first crop under the pilot program and it worked out pretty well.

In fact, I don't think we had a single field that went over the 20 ppb level set for dairy cattle. We actually harvested corn we would have been able to sell either way. It's a good deal and it reopens a crop for us in Imperial. We had some pretty impressive yields.

Our equitable distribution of water program seems to be working out. We got word the other day that we're not overrunning water and we're on track to use less than our water allotments.

By John Duarte, Stanislaus County nursery operator

Our nursery is wide open on production and sales right now. The boom in agriculture is continuing pretty much with all crops that we serve, including almonds, winegrapes, pistachios, walnuts and citrus. We have scaled up greenhouse production and capacity across our crops and we think we are close to meeting demand. And the plantings are still coming. We are seeing 2013 deliveries going fairly smoothly. Some growers are a little bit behind, just because of the scale of development this year. And all of the companies that supply these developments are running as fast as they can—the land preparation, irrigation companies, the pump guys, even the labor crews are all challenged to keep up with demand.

But all in all it has been a fairly smooth year. This has been going on for a couple years now with walnuts, almonds, winegrapes. Raisins are doing very well and they hadn't been for a few years. Citrus guys are making money.

The one common theme we hear on the negative side is that with all this opportunity, water is scarce and irrigated farmland is scarce. And it is scarce for reasons that we can solve.

We are reinvesting heavily right now. We completed several major expansions of greenhouses. We are replacing older greenhouses that were built in the 1990s and replacing them with our new-generation greenhouses. We are really redoing the entire nursery.

By James Durst, Yolo County diversified farmer

We are still heavily involved with harvest in Yolo County—fresh-market tomatoes, melons, watermelons and now, winter squash. Sales and markets are continuing to be good and most crops are at or above average.

We anticipate our surface water to be shut off in the next few days, so we are irrigating those crops for a final time that use surface water. Like most California farmers, we are concerned about winter rains and the fragility of our irrigation systems.

Although labor is not abundant, we are appreciative of the crews we have and their dedication and hard work. We all know how important a good workforce is to California agriculture. Last weekend, we had our appreciation barbecue for our employees. We feel it important to take time out from our busy schedules to show gratitude.

We are doing fall ground prep as soon as fields are finished harvesting and we will soon begin putting in drip tape and making soil amendments. We are having outstanding fall weather so far, with little wind and moderate temperatures.