From the Fields® - January 21, 2015

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop farmer

When people ask how things are going on the farm, I say, "It rained in December and we haven't had a drop since. Without rain, there really isn't much good going on."

But we keep working. Right now we're mummy shaking to help eliminate worm pressure and continuing herbicide work and brush shredding and pruning. We're preparing for dormant sprays and expect to start putting bees in about the first of February.

But for some of the orchards around me, it's clear that well water has taken its toll. The impact is showing in terms of quality of the nuts, leaf tip burn and not adequate new shoot growth.

What we're seeing right now are spring-like conditions, but I'd rather it still be cold. We're still selling nuts and the prices are firm. So far, it has been a good year.

But we're facing a zero surface water allocation for 2015 and that makes it hard to relax and enjoy a good market. We're back to work. The spray rigs are running and we're approaching bloom with a full crew and everybody's busy.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer

I've had 12 inches of rain since the fall, but it hasn't rained here since Dec. 20. Twelve inches is a good start, but we need more, a lot more, to recharge the aquifers.

Farmers around here are going deeper with their wells. It used to be that people would go down about 300 feet, but now they're talking about going down 600 to 800 feet, which may cause problems for overlying aquifers. Everybody around here is concerned about it.

We're busy in the orchards now with pruning and installing drip irrigation in three of them to conserve water. We'll start dormant sprays in the almonds in coming weeks.

We harvested a good walnut crop, but now I understand the handlers are getting some resistance from the Chinese, while at the same time there's a slowdown at the ports and it's getting harder to get shipments to customers on time.

We're about 20 percent behind last year's shipments right now. I understand some of the nut companies are considering putting the nuts in containers and hauling them to the port in Galveston, Texas, to get them out of the warehouses and delivered to customers.

As long as it stays cold overnight, the walnut supply can probably keep up to the end of February. After that, the product will have to go into cold storage.

The other big concern we're facing is that it has been so warm the trees haven't gone fully dormant and they aren't setting up for a normal spring. We aren't getting the chilling hours we need. I've also seen prune trees in our area that have a scattered bloom like early spring, but it's only January.

By Valeri Strachan-Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

We are currently evaluating the strength of our beehives for almond pollination. We are continuing to put protein supplement on the bees to stimulate egg laying and improve the overall health and development of the hive.

The first of February, we move into orchards. It usually takes a little over two weeks to move all our hives into the almonds. With winter essentially coming to a close for beekeepers and spring around the corner, it is foremost on our minds to be concerned about what is causing beehives to dwindle or die off across the country. Many researchers are seeking to find answers, but there only seems to be more questions.

Diminished brood development within bee colonies is discussed in a brochure developed by the cooperative efforts of the Almond Board, beekeepers, California Department of Pesticide Regulation and scientists. It is called "Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds." It is a worthwhile brochure everyone in agriculture or who works within agriculture should read. It is easy to understand and helpful advice.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

We are well into our significant water season, which basically is mid-December to mid-March. This is the key time to get winter storms. The 15-day forecast is dry, so it is very reminiscent of last year, but with our reservoirs in even worse condition than a year ago. It is not looking good.

South of the delta, people continue to battle with the people in charge of the pumps in the delta, trying to get them to put water into San Luis Reservoir when the opportunities are there to do so. It is very disappointing.

Last year, we planted probably 95 percent of our land and we were able to squeak by. I had a landlord in the office the other day and he asked me what we are going to do this year. I responded that whatever water we have will decide how much we are going to farm. In the absence of significant surface water from here on out, we will definitely have some widespread fallowing of properties in Tulare County. Obviously, we will fallow our row crops to keep our permanent crops alive.

We have been on a very significant expansion over the past three years, so a lot of the trees that we have planted are young trees that don't require very much water. So that is a good thing in the short run. We've used up our mulligans, we've done our smoke and mirrors and we are out of options. Our next step is fallowing ground.

I had a good cotton crop this past season. It was average to above average and the prices were extremely good for the pima and the acala that we grow here. And really, across the board, all of our crops, from the nut crops to the row crops to the forage that we grow for our dairy, everything was very good.

Dairy isn't a huge part of our operation, but it is significant, and we had far and away our best year ever.

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nurseryman

Winter has hit the Salinas Valley and with it comes changes in grapes, berries and vegetables.

Grape growers are satisfied with the 2014 crop, which included a textbook harvest with high quality fruit and good yields.

This time of year brings important pruning, staking and planting of new vineyards.

Strawberry acreage is at an all-time high and as such, growers are engaged in important root development.

As growers face the phase-out of important crop protection tools, we're seeing an upsurge in use of organics and experimental technologies to maintain yields and quality.

Vegetables did well in 2014 and even following our heavy rains, groundwork is underway for the coming spring planting season.

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County citrus/avocado grower

This is the slowest time of the year culturally, but it's a busy time for other things—cleanup, equipment repairs, irrigation equipment tune-ups, paperwork. We're reviewing activities from last year and planning for the upcoming growing and harvest activities.

We had very cold weather a couple of weeks ago, but fortunately it didn't do a lot of damage. We had alarms going off and responded; then it would warm back up. I spent most of New Year's in the groves operating frost-protection equipment as the temperatures bounced around, turning equipment off and on.

I did have one surprise when I climbed the tower to turn on a wind machine and a bird flew out of the engine platform and hit me in the head. That was a wake-up.

We're getting ready to pick lemons in the next few weeks. About five acres of young trees have already been harvested because we wanted to get the weight off.

Lemon prices were spectacular last year, but it's too soon to tell what the market will be like. We can hope it will be like last year.

The avocado crop looks OK and at the same time we're facing unknowns with the amount of international supply coming in. That has taken the edge off of prices, particularly with all the fruit coming in from Peru, which has become a big player in our market.