From the Fields® - November 6, 2013

By Peter Struffenegger, Sacramento County caviar producer

For some of us involved in aquaculture, this time of year is winding-down time, while for others it is ramping-up time. With the weather turning colder, catfish stocking into lakes is slowing down and trout stocking will start picking up. Live sales of fish to the Asian markets know no seasons and remain fairly regular. There is a reported shortage of bait fish available for sale in the state, and some aquaculturists are looking towards production of bait fish for the recreational industry.

For us in the caviar business, this time of year is ramping-up time. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, 60 percent to 70 percent of all the caviar sold and consumed each year in the U.S. takes place. In the rest of the world that does not celebrate Thanksgiving, the Christmas holiday is the major selling season. So beginning in October, distributors of caviar begin to position themselves with product, stocking up known quality that their customers require and guessing how good a season it will be in order to decide how much to stock up. If they guess wrong—as many did in 2008 with the collapse of the financial markets—they could get stuck with high inventories of this expensive, perishable product, which fell in price during the holidays with a big loss.

Under-purchasing can be just as bad, as late-minute needs cannot be met if their distributors have under-bought and sold out of their stocks, showing they are an unreliable supplier, and they lose customers who can find last-minute caviar elsewhere. So we have been busy sending our caviar to stock up our distributors.

We only sell on the Web, and this year is the worst type of year for shipping, with Christmas Day and New Year's Day falling on Wednesdays. Everyone who orders on the Web wants their caviar as close to the holidays as possible. Thus, we can ship Monday for Tuesday arrival, with no UPS or FedEx deliveries on Christmas Day. We ship again on Thursday for Friday arrival or Monday for Tuesday arrival for New Year's Eve celebrations, so the entire two-week period is condensed down to three possible packing and shipping days for us.

The one constant, no matter what you raise, whether your specific crop is catfish, trout, tilapia, oysters, sturgeon, abalone or something else, is regulations. This seems to know no season. The renaming of California Department of Fish and Game to California Department of Fish and Wildlife shows us the new emphasis that this agency may have, with unknown impacts to aquaculture specifically and the agriculture industry in California generally.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified farmer

We just finished cotton picking and thrashing the last of our cover-crop black-eyed beans. We could not have had a better harvest season. It has been unbelievably good.

The pistachio yields were a little bit lower than we were expecting, but of course the prices are through the roof, so that was a very successful crop for us this year. Other than the water situation, as far as the income and expenses go, I would call this an above-average year.

We are still baling hay, which is very unusual to be this late, so cutting is light, but it is very high quality. All of our wheat goes for forage. It has all been planted and irrigated, and it is just now beginning to emerge.

On the dairy side, prices are inching up, but the biggest relief comes from the price of corn, which has come way down. This has really taken the cost of feed down significantly. So the overall economy of the dairies has improved quite a bit recently.

This is the largest dairy county in the United States and a lot of the smaller, older, more traditional dairies have gone out of business. And frankly, the scrap guys are busier than heck taking these old places out and converting the land back to crops.

The big thing that you hear from every grower is water. We have a crew from our pump repair business on our ranch just about every day, repairing our wells that barely made it through to the end of the season or didn't make it. So that continues to be a big part of what we are doing.

By Greg Wegis, Kern County diversified grower

With alfalfa, we're waiting on the last cutting in a few more weeks. Then we will cut and apply winter herbicides.

Corn silage harvest is almost complete. We had good yields. Water was a little tight this year and might have reduced a little tonnage.

Our almond harvest finished two weeks ago. We had good yields, up 30 percent from last year on nonpareil. Hard-shells are similar yields to last year. We're doing hedging and light pruning now and shredding brush. We planted a new orchard last week.

Pistachio harvest had good yields, but higher blanks than last year. There was no navel orangeworm damage to speak of. I'm hoping no early frosts come that could cause some freeze damage in our higher-saline soils. There is still some sap in the branches. They're not asleep yet.

We're also pruning and hedging our cherries. Chlorides and sodium affected the cherries this year toward the end of the season. We applied some gyp and are doing some extra leaching in dormancy this year.

We're overhauling a lot of wells this winter that were close to breaking suction this year and that are low in efficiency. We're drilling a few new wells and hoping for a good, wet winter. Pumping levels are down 50 feet from one year ago.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

This year is now slated as one of the earliest winegrape harvests for the Sierra foothills. On Aug. 20, we handpicked our orange muscat at 27 brix. Fortunately, we were able to remove all grapes from the field before any precipitation, and as a result, the quality and color for this year's vintage looks superior across the varietals. Most primary fermentations are complete across the region, and enologists are inoculating the secondary fermentation, or malolactic, to select wines.

The walnut crop was less than average, yet growers are stating that the absence of precipitation cooperated with the harvest. We are anxious for rain and anticipate that by the time of publication, drops start falling on our parched land.

Several wineries in Amador County have bushels of daffodils ready to plant for our spectacular spring agritourism. Time to harvest those last summer vegetables, and head out to nurseries for your winter vegetables and bedding flowers.

By Doug Beretta, Sonoma County dairy farmer

Fall has arrived in Sonoma County. Temperatures have fallen down into the 30s overnight, but still remain in the 70s during the afternoon hours. Grape harvest is coming to an end, apples are just about halfway and the olives are just getting started.

For the dairies, everyone is finishing up with spreading manure and preparing corrals and drylots for the rainy season. This will be the first year for dairy operations to turn in annual reports to the Regional Water Quality Board under the new Cow Dairy Waiver. Hopefully, we will get some rain soon to replenish the reservoirs used for watering cattle and to get the grass growing. If we don't, it could become a very expensive fall for operations having to feed extra hay and truck water to ranches to water cattle.