From the Fields® - August 6, 2014

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified farmer

Water is No. 1 on everybody's minds. Our crops look good across the board. We have been a couple days late getting around here and there, but generally speaking, we have not had any widespread water-stress issues that will have any yield impacts. Our earliest pistachios are beginning to split, which means we are probably looking at starting to shake in mid-August, which is at least two weeks ahead of normal. But so far it doesn't look like we will have too many blanks. We were concerned because of the uneven bloom that we had this spring, but it looks like it is coming along fine and it looks like the yields could be pretty good.

The cotton crop looks exceptionally good, especially our pima cotton. We have had higher than normal temperatures, which has served the pima very well. We are actually very excited about that because the price of pima is high and the prospects are very good.

The price of milk is good and the only down side is that the cost of forage is through the roof. All of the costs are up, but dairying is still profitable, so that is a bright spot for us.

We are looking for the finish line, the light at the end of the tunnel. We just hope it's not a train. All in all, things are going to be OK for this year. Next year is the big question mark. We have pulled all of our tricks and used up all of our mulligans. If we don't get some significant snow this winter to create some surface supplies, I don't know what is going to happen next year, I really don't.

By Jim Durst, Yolo County diversified farmer


This is a short description of the summer of 2014.

We went into this year knowing water would be tight and we have set aside some acres without planting.

We ordered a new well to be drilled last October and after repeated delays by drillers, we finally had it online and running on July 18 (original commitment was May). With this delay, we were forced to deficit-irrigate some of our crops.

We are in the middle of our fresh tomato harvest, beginning early again this year.

Watermelon harvest began in early July and is proceeding on schedule with smaller sizes on our first plantings.

Warm weather is bunching up some plantings, with second and third plantings of cherry tomatoes all showing color at the same time. Spotted wilt virus has struck many varieties in our first planting of cherry tomatoes and we are making efforts to keep it out of our later plantings. We feel causation was a result of disease presence, deficit irrigation, humidity and hot weather creating stressful conditions.

We are on our fourth cutting of alfalfa, with good yields and pricing this year.

We are all hopeful of normal or above normal rainfall this year to recharge our aquifers and lakes, not only for agriculture, but also for all the critters that are having a hard time with exceptionally dry habitat this year.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

It's common knowledge that the California drought has had a significant impact on the state rice acreage in 2014. Some rice ground has been left idle for the year, or when possible planted to other crops that use less water.

The first official USDA estimate (from its June 30 report) was that our planted rice acres are down 13 percent (71,000 acres) from 2013. But many people in the industry here (growers, millers, etc.) feel that the decline is much greater than that, along the lines of 20 to 30 percent. The reduction in the amount of planting seed that was sold for this season—if the anecdotal reports I hear are true—backs that contention up. The general consensus is that USDA, as it obtains more data over the next several months, will be sharply revising downwards its estimate of California's rice acreage for 2014.

However many acres there really are, in general they look pretty good. And the crop has grown fast too. Butte County farm advisor Cass Mutters reports that in the 2014 Statewide Variety Trials, panicle initiation was ahead of the expected plant development schedule by about seven days. I think this is a sign that the rice plants are thriving. But I remember another year when the rice grew fast, and we ended up having a lot of lodging. I hope that is not the case this year, as it would greatly slow down the harvest.

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County citrus/avocado grower

Our rain total was 7.7 inches, about 40 percent of normal. We also had some unusually warm days in late May.

The older I get, the more sense my dad's comments make. He often remarked there was no such thing as an average year—this one is no exception.

Like a lot of other people around the state, we're struggling with water supplies for irrigation and have taken steps to conserve. Our well levels are declining, along with water quality. We've probably got 10 weeks of irrigation left and worry we won't get through without significant shortage.

On the avocado side, we're down to our last week of harvest. It is a good crop, with good quality, but down nearly two full sizes. That represents a 30 percent loss of volume compared to a more normal size curve.

Harvest timing was a bit tough. In general, California's avocado crop was small and early maturing, so getting it off through the summer months should have been at great prices. Turned out, large-scale imports from Peru wreaked havoc in the market, knocking 20 cents off the price.

But you've got to love lemons. We escaped any freeze damage this year, and with tight supplies, prices have been fantastic. We had good crop quality, but down on the usual size curve.

The drought has prompted us to take several steps. We have abandoned four small areas of avocados that are badly infected with root rot. They needed to be removed anyway.

We've also spent a great deal of time and effort applying organic mulch in our lemon blocks. It seems to be extending our irrigation interval from two weeks up to three weeks, which is a huge help. If our water supply situation gets worse, we'll short the lemons before the avocados.

By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery grower

We got a late start on the planting season because of rains in March, which slowed down retail business. April and May were pretty good for nursery sales, but then they started talking about the drought and everything went downhill.

People aren't buying garden plants like they used to, but that was even before the drought. Surveys for the past 10 years have been showing us people are spending more and more time indoors with email and video games. They're not outside gardening.

So when the current drought is added to sales declines, nurseries are sweating it out this summer. The first week of July was OK, but then it really took a drop. I don't know what's going to happen in August.

Growers have so many plants; they may have to throw some of them out.

We've got big crops coming—chrysanthemums—that we hope people are going to buy starting in September. In October and November, we have cyclamen coming, followed by poinsettias. These crops are coming along nicely. We just don't know where the market is going to be.

We hope the poinsettia business will continue strong, because they aren't a plant used outdoors that needs to be watered. We're hoping that crop won't be affected by the lack of water.

But I am worried about sales of the chrysantheumum crop because of the drought.