From the Fields® - December 18, 2013

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

During the fall, the vegetable markets were pretty good. Almost everything across the board—broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, Chinese napa cabbage, bok choy and baby bok choy—was good. The lowest-priced item that we grow was celery, and it was in the double digits, which is a decent price, so we were real happy with the fall markets. We're kind of wrapped up after our big push for the Thanksgiving market.

The weather has turned cold just like most other places. We've had very hard freezes. We still have product growing in the ground and we've started to see a little bit of damage to lettuces, where we get epidural separation in the leaf layers. We have small, seeded plants in the ground and it could be months before we see any damage from that. A lot of our brassicas could start to bolt because of the cold weather. It's a concern, but it is not completely unusual. If this happened in the middle of summertime, it would be a big shock, but we understand that this could happen.

The biggest concern is with our citrus and avocados. There has been a warm inversion layer higher up, so our orchards that are up high are usually protected. For those on the lower level, we're keeping our irrigation on and trying to raise the relative humidity in the orchard. We've had to start our wind machines fairly early in the night to protect them. It is starting to cost us a little bit more. The duration is a bit long for our taste. We'll see how it comes out; you have to be an optimist. We'll hope for the best and keep our fingers crossed.

By Luke Reimers, Glenn County diversified grower

Everything is pretty bleak up here in terms of winter feed and as a result, we are feeding cattle pretty heavily. We are fall calvers, so we are working through marking all the cattle and getting them all ready to go out on winter pasture once it comes. But right now it looks like it is a minimum of a month out, so we have to continue feeding hay. I think everyone is in the same boat. The feed costs are hurting our bottom line, but luckily butcher cow prices are pretty high.

In terms of our walnuts, we are working to get our pre-emergences down and the weeds sprayed and preparing for springtime.

I can summarize the situation in a few words: We are waiting for rain. As of right now, we have a pretty bleak irrigation outlook as far as water availability for next year.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer

In our area, there's a lot of concern with the pretty low temperatures that we've been receiving this past week. Primarily the citrus folks have probably incurred some damage, but to what extent I'm not sure. Everybody is hopeful that it is not that much, but it's been pretty low temperatures. As far as the other crops, the frost has actually been good for almonds and getting the chilling hours in to get them dormant. That has not happened until now, so hopefully that will equate to a lower insect year next year.

The water outlook right now is that we are dry and we're coming from two years of drought and maybe into a third, and what that means is the CVP and State Water Project are going to be at zero or very little, if any. The problem is, it is now two years and the system is empty and the regulations are fairly steep, but we are tracking 1977 and that was extremely dry. It's a big hole to fill.

That means we will probably pump more groundwater, which is not a good thing. We've been doing that too much already, and we're just going to have to manage what little canal supply we have from one year to the next.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Out in the vineyards around Lodi, we will start pruning next week. People are expressing concern about the labor supply, which is unknown right now because a lot of people haven't started. Some growers may actually start earlier than normal because of the unknown labor supply.

The cold has been good, with good dormancy for the vines. The leaves are off the vines now and some guys are pre-pruning. No one has started weed spraying yet. People are planting cover crops. Some were planted earlier and they germinated, but haven't grown much because of the lack of rainfall and the cold weather.

We are having a dry late fall and early winter and as a result, we were able to get some extra field work done, including land prep for vineyard development. The dry weather was beneficial in that regard, but on the down side, we didn't get enough rain.

With our winegrapes, it seems like we had a good year. Both growers and wineries are happy with the quality. Overall, the production was about the same as last year. Some blocks were off from last year and some were about average.

And of course, everyone is doing the rain dance because we all need rain for so many reasons.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified farmer

We have been very busy with our cotton picking. In a recent cotton variety field day, we had an opportunity to see several grower-provided field trials. These trials are invaluable for the information they provide in evaluating the ever-changing and constantly evolving seed varieties. Overall, this cotton crop had one of the best germination periods I can recall. In fact, some growers suspect we may have had "too good of a germination period" and thus ended up with greater than ideal plant populations.

All growers in the Palo Verde Valley agree that this was the most difficult cotton crop grown in the last 10 years. We had unprecedented insect pressure and initial indications of insect resistance to some insecticides. As this cotton crop is picked and ginned, the results will speak for themselves; however, I suspect yields will be off by 10 percent to 30 percent and grades will also suffer. At this initial stage in the ginning process, there appears to be a marked difference in higher grades from the cotton crops grown on the Arizona side of our valley. The Arizona growers had access to some insecticides that we California growers were not eligible to use. I will keep you updated on the results of the harvest.

Following this cotton crop, it's a mad dash to get wheat planted and irrigated before the irrigation district shuts off the water for two weeks for its annual canal maintenance.

By Nick Short, Stanislaus County almond and walnut grower

Here in Stanislaus County, the almond and walnut growers are in the process of all our winter tasks. We are in full swing of pruning the trees, shredding the brush and doing any groundwork that needs to be done. The temperatures have been very cold, which is a good thing for the trees right now. It helps them go dormant and we are hoping to get the right amount of chilling hours that the trees need.

We have started running our rototiller in the fields that have already had the brush shredded, which helps incorporate the brush shreddings and smoothes the orchard floors. This time of year is generally a slower time of year for the almond and walnut growers. We are servicing all our equipment and doing general cleanup around the farms. We have seen a little bit of rain, which has helped the local dairy farmers and others who have winter crops that rely on the precipitation.