From the Fields® - April 2, 2014

By Susan Hoek, Nevada County beef rancher

We are enjoying this wonderful rain and pray for more to come. Everything is blooming or heading out, a month too early. This rain came just as we finished fertilizing the fields and softened the ground enough to do some ditch cleaning before irrigation season starts.

Spring calving is done and next week we will make the big cuts needed to insure feed for the remaining fall cows. We will also ship the remainder of fall calves and are thankful that the prices have been high and steady. I believe the early weaning, as hard as it was, has made a huge difference in the feed supply and what we will leave for next year on our winter ground.

This week includes attending workshops on irrigation strategy hosted by University of California Cooperative Extension and Placer RCD. The resources available have been so helpful as we continue to deal with the financial and emotional side of this drought. Seems that the drought is ever constant in our daily business, but for today we put it on hold and just enjoyed wearing our rubber boots.

By Stan Lester, Yolo County orchardist

We were pleased to have an above-normal amount of rain in February and thought we might be on a roll for a March miracle, but March has been a disappointment. We did receive 0.4 inches of rain and will possibly receive another 2 inches with the next two storms. We shall see, but we are quickly running out of time for this rain season. Unfortunately, two weeks ago we had strong north winds. These not only suck what little moisture we have in the soil, but also evaporate what little water we have in our lakes and streams. The strong winds also remove the water content from what little snow we have in the mountains. Right now, Mother Nature is not being too kind to us.

Back at the orchards, the apricots have finished blooming and have set a crop. There looks to be plenty of fruit set and the crop seems to be free of brown rot and shot hole fungus. Some varieties of peaches have finished blooming and the later varieties are still blooming. I don't worry about the peach fruit set; they always seem to set a crop. The cherries started blooming on the early varieties about two weeks ago, and the later varieties are just beginning to bloom. Of course, we have the bees out there with the cherry trees, as they need cross-pollination between varieties.

The walnuts are just starting to push, with the Serr variety being one of the earliest varieties to bloom. Walnuts have separate male (catkins) and female (pistillate) flowers on the trees. The Serr variety can have too much pollen and abort the small nutlets when the tree is setting a crop. So, we mechanically shake the catkins to the ground and apply Retain on the trees to reduce the amount of pollen and, hopefully, increase the nut set. We are hoping to have a good walnut crop, as there seems to be a good demand for walnuts.

On the issue of dormancy for deciduous fruit and nut trees, some pomologists I have talked to are now concluding that not only do the temperatures below 45 degrees contribute to dormancy, but that temperatures above 45 degrees take away from dormancy. It stands to reason, especially when we have lately been experiencing above-normal temperatures. Their conclusion for this year: We have had the worst year for dormancy in the last 100 years. This is perhaps why we are seeing uneven blooming taking place with the deciduous trees this spring.

It is going to be an interesting year with the weather. Farmers have to keep adjusting and plugging away in an attempt to provide food for the world.

By Sarb Atwal, Yuba-Sutter County orchardist

The peach bloom was excellent this year. The weather was favorable for the bloom and so far the peach crop looks adequate. Although it is too early to determine the size of the crop, it does look uniform between the varieties, which is always a good sign. We have been busy mowing and applying weed-control products along the strips and tying rope on the trees.

Our prune bloom has just concluded and the trees are now leafing out. We experienced several warm days of 80-degree temperatures, coupled with a dry north wind. However, the bloom itself was very strong and the bees had several good days to work. Interestingly, the bloom was fairly stretched out and not as sporadic as in years past when we had crop failures. We finished our fungicide and scab applications just prior to the rain. We remain hopeful for a good set, as the industry is strong and the demand is high.

We are finishing pruning our walnuts and have just finished planting trees for this season. The next step is to prepare irrigation systems and other orchard development functions for the growing season.

Our pecans are starting bud break, which is running about normal from last year. We have finished our mechanical pruning and are currently doing weed control.

We are all praying for more rain and snow and must remain vigilant with our water usage. Even though we are fortunate to have well water, this is the type of year to really conserve by utilizing irrigation sensors and leaf pressure to determine moisture levels. Best of luck to everyone this growing season.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We're about 60 percent of normal precipitation up here. The good thing is that the late rains do benefit the vines. We're currently in bud break with all of our varietals, from the muscats to the zinfandels. All of our crop-care materials are ready for the season.

Our ponds are still quite dry. We don't have enough water up here. A lot of the people in the area will irrigate only one or two times this year, so we will be limiting our crop so that we can keep the vines healthy and produce good quality fruit. We're not sure what the freeze did from early in the year when it got down to 12 degrees. I believe that it was cold enough where we had some damage in our buds and I think we will have less of a crop because of that.

Other than that, we're in good shape. The grass is growing, which is good for the cattle ranchers. Fruit trees are in bloom up here, so the people that have specialty crops will have some nice items to sell at the farmers markets.

By Ed Curiel, Tehama County olive grower

Right now, we are doing some pruning in our olives and we are revamping old wells, because irrigation is going to be an issue this year. We have a zero allocation from our water district here in Corning, which means if we have an old well out there that we can make work, we are going to try to make it work. Meanwhile, we are hoping for more rain.

We are starting to see a lot of damage from the December frost. Now that it warming up a bit, more of that freeze damage is becoming apparent.

Olives are evergreen, but they do have some dormancy in the winter when they are not actively growing. It is when things start warming up that we see the growth again. Buds are now pushing out and that is when we start seeing the damage from the freeze—some leaves fall off, bare shoots and other leaves start turning yellow. We are seeing a lot of yellow leaves on the Manzanillo variety right now. There is less damage in the Sevillanos, and it isn’t as widespread.