From the Fields® - September 17, 2014

By Tom Coleman, Madera County pistachio grower

Pistachio harvest is well underway. I got started the last week of August. The growers may have dodged a bullet in the Madera area in particular where we had a really poor bloom and a lot of concern about the percentage of nuts that are filling. In Madera, we are actually having lower percentage of blanks in the lower percentage of closed shells than we might normally see. Unfortunately, on the west side and in the south valley, the blanks are running very high.

Overall, the crop is estimated to be 500 million pounds, and right now we believe it is going to be less than that. It could be as low as 450 million pounds. This should have been an "on" year for the industry and it is going to be an "off" year. Strangely, what happened with the bloom is we had too much warm weather during our dormant period, mostly in January. We had very cold nights but very warm summer days. The trees did not get proper dormancy rest and chilling hours. Normally, here in the valley we get a little bit of rain, and in January and February we get a little bit of fog and that’s ideal for pistachios. The trees just did not get the proper rest. We had a varied amount of bloom. Part of the tree was blooming and part of the tree wasn’t.

With the water shortage there were a lot of growers that experienced insufficient irrigation, so that has limited the ability to fill the nuts and get the trees into full production. I have a number of ranches that got harvested in order of when the water was going to run out, not in order of ripeness, which would be the normal case. I personally have been paying as much as $1,000 an acre-foot for water, which is the most that I’ve ever paid for irrigation. I will be harvesting in about another week for first shake. In another week after that, I’ll be doing some new shake on some of the blocks that we already started on.

We’re thinking with the lower production, the price back to the grower will probably be the highest we’ve ever seen. Those of us who have been in the industry a long time are obviously happy for the moment, but for the long term think we are just setting the price too high.

I also do pistachio tree sales, which are also booming. I am seeing tree sales like I’ve never seen before. Generally, we are busy in the spring and in the summer, but we are shipping trees next week and the week after.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified farmer

Right now we're in the middle of harvesting all the corn silage, getting that last irrigation on and harvesting. All the almond guys are right in the middle of that, as well. It seems like everything is ahead of schedule by a couple of weeks this year. 

As far as the pumpkin patch goes, we are getting all the grounds ready. Our pumpkins are growing really well. We're finishing up and just trying to hold the vines these last two, three weeks with all this hot weather happening. We're pouring the water on them as best we can with what water we have, trying to maintain them. But they're doing really well. There are a lot of pretty colors out there. It should be shaping up to be a good year.

It's really been a fairly good summer as far as corn goes and even for almonds. It's been warm, but it hasn't been 105, 110 degrees, so it's really been fairly bearable conditions.

For the most part, the Turlock Irrigation District and Stanislaus County have OK water—not great water, but we have enough to get by this year, so we're doing well. The farms are doing all they can to stretch the water as best we can. We'll get through it this year. We're hopeful for a good rain. There was some fallowing going on here, but not a lot. We're fortunate here to have some of the best water in the state, so we're OK this year. But there are hardly any reserves for next year.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

This summer has been challenging for vegetable production on the Central Coast. We are in the third year of a drought cycle and this has caused a build-up of salt in the soil and created problems, such as tip burn, in saltsensitive crops. The drought has also caused a severe drop in some well levels. Some of the shallower domestic wells have gone dry and many of the irrigation wells in our valley have reduced flows, some reduced to only 20 percent.

This has forced many farmers to fallow ground. The fallowing of ground has been a blessing in some respects. Over the past few years, labor supplies have been getting tighter and tighter. With the fallowing of farm ground, what could have been a far worse situation seems to have stabilized for the short term.

Warmer than normal night temperatures along with high humidity has also caused problems with crops, such as brown-bead in broccoli, heat check in field cut flowers and mildew in lettuces. This, along with the fallowing, has created shortages in supplies and higher market prices. With water shortage in the Central Valley, the late fall growing region for vegetables, the market shortages may be prolonged and may provide opportunities for growers in those areas with adequate water.

By Keith Larrabee, Glenn County nut and rice grower

Rice harvest will probably start this week. The crop looks good. I’m anxious to get started. Nothing was out of the ordinary with the rice production.

On walnuts, our main varieties are Howard and Chandler. We will probably get going this week on our Howards. The crop looks decent. We’ll know more once we’re in the field. Pest issues in the walnuts were actually rather light this year. We have been spraying for a little codling moth right before harvest within the timeframe that we need to, to make sure that it remains clean without any issues.

Pecans probably won’t get going until the 10th to the 15th of October. So we have a busy fall ahead of us. The crop looks good. I think we have good size. The crop set looks very good. It’s difficult to estimate what we have, but I’m encouraged that it’s a good, strong crop. We had a really intense aphid year and it continues. Aphids are our main pest in pecans. So that has been a battle all year. We’ve sprayed more than we normally have had to, to control them, but we’re keeping up the best we can with that.

We have not had any water issues. Our district was probably one of the few that actually had a full allotment of water, and our district was highly encouraged to participate in water transfers for fields with annual crops like rice. Our district as a whole did participate in that and fallowed about 20 percent of the ground in the district and sold water to those who were in a more-dire situation than us. I participated at a very little level. We only fallowed one field.

I guess we’re all praying for rain. It would be nice to see the state as a whole be more proactive on the water issue rather than being reactionary and develop new water. By that I mean develop more dams, develop more desalination and continue to fix the plumbing issues in the entire state water system. I think all three of those are areas that need to happen. We can’t continue to increase demand in the state with people, industry and cities, and expect agriculture to be the only one sacrificing itself for everybody else.

Thank God the previous generation had the foresight to develop an abundant supply of water for themselves so that in times of drought and dry periods, they still had adequate water to meet the state’s needs. Unfortunately, the last generation failed to continue that trend and now we’re experiencing that plight. I sure hope the state will continue to develop a lot more new water, and that doesn’t mean taking it from those who have it today.