From the Fields® - July 9, 2014

By Stacy Gore, Butte County diversified farmer

The North State has had a reasonably good late spring-early summer this year. A few days of wind has held up some rice spraying, but favorable conditions the last week have moved the season along nicely with most being done by the Fourth of July. Water, like everywhere, is a concern and with luck growers will be able to finish the season without interruption.

In the almonds, we have already applied a worm spray, as there is some hull split in the north valley. Maybe not unusual for the San Joaquin Valley, but it is a little early for where I'm at. The crop looks like it will be good, but perhaps a little less than last year.

Dry grains have all been put to hay or harvested. A lot of the corn was as high as an elephant's eye, before the Fourth of July. Sunflowers are coming along, with some fields already having the males pushed down. Hopefully, temperatures will ease a bit for the last of pollination, as even bees aren't real happy about having to work in triple digits.

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County apple grower

It looks like we will have a full crop of apples—Gala, Granny, Fuji, Pink Lady. It seems that the apples weren't affected as much as cherries with the lack of chill hours. The crop is healthy, and size looks to be on pace to be about normal. We have experienced some heat in the past few days and we are taking measures to keep the fruit protected. It looks like we are going to be OK there as well.

All in all, I think we are going to be looking at a pretty good apple season. We are about a week early from normal, whatever normal is anymore. I am anticipating harvest to begin around July 23 or July 24. The market is anyone's guess at this point. Washington state has had a couple big crops, but it looks as if movement has been good all across the country and I think we should start out with a pretty decent market for California. We should be able to at least get a head start on the Washington state crop that is predicted to be early this year as well.

Water is the wild card in all of this. We are kind of getting by and we are using wells in certain places that we haven't had to use in the past to supplement. We are probably going to be OK through this season. Another dry year and it will be a completely different story. Water is less this year than in the past and we have cut back.

By Chuck Nichols, Kings County nut grower

The most important thing for us is trying to keep enough water on our crops and maintaining the wells that we have. We are in the first navel orangeworm spray for our pistachios and hull-split spray for almonds is also going on right now. Beyond that, it is water, fertilizer, nitrogen, potassium, as well as boron for pistachios.

We are getting ready for harvest, making sure the floor is in shape for almond harvest and getting the equipment ready for both almond and pistachio harvests. Our almond crop looks very good. Our trees are young, but they are definitely producing a very good crop. How big it is, I don't know—I'm not great at estimating. There aren't a lot of almond plantings in this area, so I can't really say what is out there.

With pistachios, it is hard to know. We didn't have enough chilling hours last winter and so the bloom is very uneven and the maturity of the nuts varies, but once hulls start to split, then you can see the difference in maturity. You don't know how big that is going to be or how good the crop is. It looks good on the tree, but that doesn't always correlate to a good crop. When the maturity is variable, you may only recover 80 percent of the crop, but you can recover almost 100 percent when the maturity is uniform.

By Russel Efird, Fresno County diversified farmer

As July is upon us in Fresno County, we realize how fast harvest is approaching. Berry softening is or has occurred in all raisin and  winegrape varieties. Almonds are starting hull split with most NOW sprays either finished or are currently being sprayed, and walnuts progressing just as quickly. So if harvest equipment is not ready to go, then there is very little time left on the calendar to get this equipment ready for harvest. 

Watching the thermometer this week, temperatures above 100 every day and concerned about heat stress, we have been starting work at 5 a.m. every day since the middle of June and will shut down early on extremely hot days. Heat stress tailgate meetings are held weekly.

As with all farmers, water is a big issue, as the lack of winter rainfall continues, the dumping of the stored water and therefore no surface water or filling of reclamation ponds, water tables continue to fall at quite an alarming rate. When are our politicians going to realize that they have caused, either by action or inaction, this very critical water situation?

By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

This year has been a monument to the power of Mother Nature. I am really hoping and praying to get to admire the power of Mother Nature next year as she demonstrates her ability to rain. One of the challenges in this business, and I think one of the keys to success, is your ability to roll with the punches. I have changed management strategies to adapt to the drier weather. I cut my herd numbers in December when it was obvious we weren't going to recover from our dry start to the season. I have maintained these reductions, turning the cattle out on the grazing permits. I am focusing on managing the cattle to use the less enthusiastic water supplies first and attempting to save the more robust water sources for later in the season, so I graze the range more evenly.

We are almost done with our hay harvesting. I have another 200 round bales to barn and it's a done deal. Yields were down this year. In late April, I was debating whether or not to even bother cutting hay, the volume of vegetation was so abysmal. The quality of most of it was very good, but the density lacked. I am honestly not sure what did it. I don't remember there being any appreciable quantity of rain short of a few showers, but there was a burst of some kind of growth, and we went ahead and cut most all of the usual fields. A couple of the fields surprised me with an increase in yield over the hay I cut last year.

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nurseryman

Summer is in full swing here in the Salinas Valley. With it comes the hustle and bustle of field trucks and more than 5,000 refrigerated coolers headed everywhere from Mexico City to Calgary.

This season has seen yet another bump in strawberry production. Ever since the strawberry became America's No. 1 consumed fruit, it seems we can't plant enough here in Monterey County. Last count, we surpassed 40,000 acres in production, with no sign of slowing down.

While most of the state is suffering from a gut-wrenching drought, the Salinas Valley has not seen water restrictions yet. Monterey County is home to the largest coastal aquifer and thanks to an aggressive saltwater intrusion program, we're holding our own. We are also not subject to the state or federal water programs. We're all praying for rain, as our two major reservoirs feeding the aquifer are still extremely low.

Vegetable production has been smooth this season. Probably our biggest challenge has been some really terrible downy mildew facing organic spinach producers. Several high-profile meetings have been called with researchers, pest control advisors and growers. In some places, yields are as low as 50 percent.