From the Fields® - November 26, 2014

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

Right now on the farm we just finished our last irrigation cycle. Thankfully it was shorter because we have had some rain. Generally it is October when we start getting our first winter rains and we are excited about that. Harvest is definitely early, probably earlier than I have done in 20 years. Generally we don’t pick everything until December and January, but already the olives are considerably ripe right now, so we are getting everything geared up. We will pretty much be done by December.

The most exciting thing on the farm is our Meyer lemon crop. Our lemons got hit pretty hard by the frost and we were concerned that we wouldn’t get a crop, but as it turns out we will have one of the biggest Meyer lemon crops that we have ever seen. We utilize these lemons in our olive oil, so we are excited about that.

The olive crop statewide is down. I’ve heard reports that it is about 65 percent of normal. I don’t know the factors of that. We didn’t really have any odd weather to impact our crop, which seemed to be about the same size as last year’s crop, so we were fortunate in that regard. One thing that may have affected it was the extremely dry January and February. We actually did a half-cycle irrigation in January and we’ve never done that before.

People are discovering olive oil as a personal commodity now. They are really identifying with a local farmer such as ourselves in our area. In California, we like to say that there is no reason that people shouldn’t know personally who is farming their olives and making their olive oil.

By John Vevoda, Humboldt County dairy farmer

There's plenty of rain already this season, so that's good. In our operation, we've completed all the fall farming. We harvested all of our fall feed. We got all of our corn and silage in that we had. The quality was good, but the yields throughout the year weren't quite what we were hoping for because it was so dry. But then we had early rains too, so we were really praying the rain would stop so we could get everything in and get fields planted before it started raining again.

We're pretty well set for the winter as it stands right now. The grass is growing in fields, but we still have to supplement a little bit because it was pretty dry, hot and windy this summer.

We pumped more water than I ever remember in over 40 years. The wells did hold up, so we were fortunate there. Some of my neighbors were not quite so fortunate. I don't think there are too many guys hauling water right now. Most people who were hauling water for their livestock, that's come to an end.

Because we're organic, we depend on the grasses growing. Our milk production was down a little bit this year, just because of it being so dry. Feed costs were through the roof because of the drought. The quality of the feed that we purchased was off and extremely expensive. We had to depend on just the grass this year rather than supplementing any feed.

But the problem is, on the organic side, the price that the producer receives didn't go up. The organic milk supply got short this summer. So now with it being short—unlike on the conventional side where it's getting long—we're getting quite a few buyers coming in and offering us all kinds of prices for our milk.

Because we're under contract, we're not able to go right away, but most of us can give notice if we want to leave and go someplace else. What if the supply gets long? So you have to think about all that in your decisions. It's kind of a difficult situation. It almost reminds me of pre-pooling in 1969.

It doesn't look like we're going anywhere soon, just because of all that we've gone through when Humboldt Creamery went bankrupt in 2009. All I look for is stability, even though some of the prices they're offering look good. But there are quite a few dairymen jumping ship. So this next year should be very interesting when it comes to organic milk.

By Jon Fadhl, Solano County olive oil producer

We finished harvest. Harvest was two weeks later than it probably should have been, but we ended up getting pretty high oil yields. The tonnage on the crop was average.

Olives are alternate bearing, but we planted our trees over four years, so half of our orchard is "on" and half of it is "off." And we did that on purpose so we don't have a high year and then the next year not have any oil. For our total production, we maintain a certain level, so our production is basically the same tonnage pretty much every year and pretty stable. Where our benefits come in is our oil yields.

I think the quality is there. It's still being tested; we haven't gotten our actual results back yet, but from our internal sampling, it seems to be on target. We don't have any pest issues. I know there's a fruit fly issue going on in the Napa and Suisun Valley areas, but we're not seeing it in our growing region. So that's positive for our quality.

I don't think the drought necessarily affected us this year in terms of water availability, at least on my production and my olive crop. The California water issue has not been a big detriment to me yet. I think that has to do with the evapotranspiration of the crop, how much water the crop uses, because olives tend to be drought tolerant. We cut back a little bit on our water in order to conserve and we ended up with some really nice yields, and I don't know if that was from the water deficit or from waiting two weeks longer to harvest.

Our water source is from the reclamation district. Our water rights have not been affected yet. We were asked to conserve, and that's what we've done, but it is not mandatory yet. We cut back just to prepare and try to be a good steward of the resource. We ended up with a higher oil yield. They say that running a water deficit is good for the olives, and the drought has pushed us into that arena.

By Pete Belluomini, Kern County potato, carrot and citrus farmer

Down here in my business, it's busy from all directions. One of the unique things about Kern County down this end of the valley with regard to fresh vegetables—the potatoes, the carrots—there's something going on all the time. There are multiple crops and multiple plantings, so there are multiple harvests.

We are harvesting potatoes in the mountains in eastern Kern County. That's my Thanksgiving project. It helps take care of the market during Thanksgiving. I have our fall potatoes in the home ranch in the valley. We're getting ready to prepare those for harvest. Those will be harvested as we get into December.

At the same time, planting has begun. We plant potatoes down in the Imperial Valley for the packing shed. When that's finished, we'll start planting in Bakersfield in December. So we're prepping and getting ready for all that.

We also grow carrots. Right now, we have carrots in the ground. We started harvesting some of the early plantings. We will start planting for the spring harvest. I have some organics to be planted the end of this month.

The quality of the potatoes has been good. The crops are picking up. The market is steady. So I'm optimistic today. It's off to a good start. I would say the same about the carrots. We didn't hear any complaints from the shed on any quality issues. The crop looks sufficient.

We also have citrus. We are situated in some of the earliest navel orange harvest areas, so we've been at it now for about three weeks or better. I think the crop is off just a hair, but the sizes are good and the market is steady. I think the overall numbers are down, but usually when the numbers are less on the trees, the sizes are better.

By Art Perry, San Joaquin County diversified grower

What we're really known for is seedless watermelons, pumpkins and the different squashes. At this moment, all those crops have been harvested. We're packing winter squash now.

We also are handlers. We handle product 365 days a year. We're bringing seedless watermelon in out of Mexico. So we have seedless watermelon and squash year-round.

We're working all our land to prepare it for the future crops. The first crop we're getting ready to plant is wheat. We'll be planting wheat here starting soon. The goal is to be done by the middle of December with all the wheat planted, or even earlier if possible.

We also grow beans, alfalfa hay, corn, safflower, tomatoes and all the ornamental squashes and gourds, along with pumpkins and seedless watermelon. This year we introduced the mini-seedless, or the personal seedless watermelon. We started last year on a pretty good-sized trial, but this year we put in a sizable amount. From now going forward, we'll be very active in raising personal seedless along with the large seedless watermelon.

This winter, we'll also be planting alfalfa hay. We like to have that planted by the end of December. But if we don't, we can plant it in January or February. Throughout the winter, we keep working on the land if the weather permits.