From the Fields® - October 22, 2014

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

The walnut crop has been interesting this year. The prediction was for a big increase in production, with new orchards coming online, and the early varieties were up. The Serr variety was up substantially, but the Hartleys are down a bit. The Howards appeared to be down, but we found the nut meats were very heavy—edible yield is up. So it looks like a push in terms of overall yield.

We'll get into the Chandlers in the next few days and we'll have at least three weeks of work harvesting that variety.

Because we do custom harvest work, we look forward to the early varieties because they offer us the chance to get started on harvest.

Also, the different varieties are preferred by commercial bakers and different international markets.

I was in Germany and China and you can buy bags of walnuts at the airport. India has opened up its markets and so have Japan, Russia and Ukraine.

Price can be better for the early varieties, but it varies. Generally, prices to growers are up right now because of the increasing demand.

We were OK with water this year. We got 75 percent of our allocation and managed our water very carefully. We didn't want to run out.

But I'll be honest: I'm scared about next year, if Mother Nature doesn't help us out. When we're looking at zero water allocation to grow our food, that's scary to everybody.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus grower

Our groves are doing pretty well. We've cut back on water usage because our groundwater agency is dealing with cutbacks of about 25 percent. Reducing our water use to that is challenging with trees, but we've been very judicious in how and when we water, so we're getting through this crop year.

Our season has been strong. It's one of those years where fruit utilization is very high and grower returns also are good. The strong prices are the result of multiple weather challenges—in South America and last winter's freezes in the San Joaquin Valley.

On top of that was a serious lime shortage that caused restaurants and food service companies to shift to lemons. A bunch of different, unrelated factors have produced this strong price year for lemons. We're happy to see a good market, but we're cautious because we never know what next year will bring.

We are dealing with high pest pressure this year and we've had to treat more frequently. I have huge concerns about the Asian citrus psyllid. Everybody is waiting for the next shoe to drop—discovery of citrus greening. There's a tremendous amount of worry.

Treatments in quarantine areas have messed up integrated pest management programs. Treating for the psyllids has upset a very careful balance. For every reaction, there's another reaction, which drives up per acre costs. We can handle the increased production costs this year, but if it were a down year, that would put all of us growers in a tough spot.

We're still picking the lemons right now and we have crews picking the last of the fruit before the end of the month, because the packinghouse closes its books at the end of October. Everybody is trying to get all the good fruit that's left in the groves into the bins.

By Larry Massa, Glenn County diversified farmer

Conditions are still extremely dry in the northern Sacramento Valley, despite the recent shower activity. However, an isolated area in western Glenn County received eight inches of rain in an hour and 15 minutes. It was bittersweet to the landowners at that location, as it wreaked havoc with fences and caused some erosion and gullying.

In our operation, rice harvest has been completed. The yields were very good at the Massa ranch. Harvest was a little more difficult, as the rice lodged from some of the wind and early rainshowers that occurred in September. Early quality grades received are also very favorable. At present, we're chopping straw and disking in our attempt to de-comp straw. Within the irrigation districts, there is still some water available for decomposition.

We marketed calves in early September from our spring-calving beef herd, in an attempt to retain our cows due to the extreme drought conditions in northeastern California, where we lease summer grass. Those spring-calving cows currently have improved in body condition and will winter quite easily.

We are more than half-calved in our fall-calving beef herd. Those cattle are located in both Glenn and Colusa counties. We have moved and sold cattle several times this summer in an attempt to keep cattle fed, so that we can retain our breeding herd.

We had a bout of foothill abortion in our replacement heifer herd in late August and early September. Results from the Animal Diagnostics Lab at UC Davis confirmed foothill abortion on at least one calf. I am sharing this only because this calf was a fully developed fetus.

Our winter range is much depleted and does not have an abundance of residual dry feed. We have filled our barns with both grain and grass hay to supplement poor range conditions and plan to augment our hay supplies with some rice straw. Stock water also may be an issue, as cattle will return from summer pastures in November.

As we continue into the fall season, we are thankful for our plentiful harvest and the very favorable prices received for our cattle. Now, all we have to do is think rain!

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

The almonds and pistachios are done and we are getting ready to pick cotton next week. Yields for the nut crops are all over the place; it's a mixed bag in terms of yields.

We're getting ready to plant garlic, but the challenge is the availability of water for next year. We're working with a very uncertain future in terms of our water prospects. It's difficult to plant, not knowing what next year will provide.

Our water supplies this year were slim to none and we've had to rely on groundwater, but it's not a sustainable source. This year, we fallowed about 30 percent of our farm and it will probably be higher than that next year.

At this point, there isn't any water available for post-irrigation and salt buildup is a problem. We've got a double whammy due to very little rain to push salts down and because of the greater reliance on groundwater, which is salty and it remains in the soil. It's a problem.

These are very hard business decisions. As we move into winter and the situation unfolds, we'll be making some very hard choices.

At the same time, our communities are hurting. There's concern whether there will be jobs. My own workers are concerned about my ability to maintain operations at a regular level. They know limited water leads to limited farming, which leads to job loss. The economic stress that's going on in our communities will only get worse until we get a reliable water supply.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We just finished our winegrape harvest this past week. Although we finished two weeks earlier than normal, the harvest season was several weeks longer than normal. We started quite early and finished early, but at the same time it was a longer harvest than normal. It was a combination of things. We had the warmest first six months of the year as far as temperatures go, and I think that was the driving force. I think the drought, coupled with a little lighter crop, also contributed to the longer harvest. Yields were down, depending on the variety, anywhere from 15 to 25 percent.

Right now we are rehydrating the soil, post-harvest irrigating and putting on fertilizer. The vines will store that as carbohydrates for the winter for when they come out of dormancy and break buds in the spring. Once irrigation is completed, we will be winterizing pipes and pumps and grading our roads and setting up the ranch to rest for the winter. We have a lot of shop projects and maintenance to do once the rains come, if they ever come.