From the Fields® - May 20, 2015

By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County dairy farmer and winegrape grower

Things in the vineyard are moving along well. The grapes are early. We are probably two weeks ahead of normal and we're probably a week to 10 days ahead of last year. So we're probably a good three weeks ahead of normal as far as the position that the grapes are in. They're now in full bloom. We're hoping for good weather so we get a good crop set.

We've suckered everything and we're just finishing up now. We're pulling the wires up on the trellis system, moving the grapes up and in another 10 days or so, we'll start hedging them.

The grape market seems to be very good. My grapes are all contracted, so I don't have any issues as far as the market; they're all set.

Water is an issue up here. We're probably better off than the Central Valley because I use tertiary-treated water on the grapes, and there's a fair amount of that water. We're a little short, but I think we'll be able to get through the year with our water supply, if we're careful managing it.

The dairy business right now is pretty tough. Our prices are substantially lower than they were a year ago. The milk supply is ample, so our prices are probably not going to come back for a while. Cost of production is up. We're doing the best we can to survive. It's the toughest we've had since 2009, the last time we had real low milk prices. Last year was a good year.

Beef prices for dairy cows are higher than they've been in the past, so that helps out when you do sell a cow. Calf prices are very good, which helps.

Hay prices are a little bit lower. Grain prices are substantially lower than a year ago. But the lower feed prices are not enough to make up the difference on what the milk prices have dropped. Our milk prices are $8 or $9 a hundredweight lower than last year.

We use some pasture here. It's a pretty decent pasture year. We could have used a little more rain here in the late spring, but right now it's almost too late to do us any good for this year. We're still on pasture, but it's drying up pretty rapidly now. By the end of May, we'll be pretty well done with the natural pasture. If you irrigate, then you have irrigated pasture. I irrigate some, but not enough for the entire herd.

I do grow my own silage, and that's all in the pit. That crop was average or a little above average, and it was good-quality silage.

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

It has been a very early start for us on all of our melons. We are approximately five days to a week ahead on our start dates for what we typically do. The sweet corn looks the same way. Actually now, with these cooler temperatures, the fields in front of us are starting to allow us a little breathing room, because our temperatures over the last 10 days have been slightly below average and we are going into a very cool three- to five-day period. So the last 20 percent of our deal may wrap up very close to what we had projected.

Like the entire state, as far as the Asian citrus psyllid, we took to the battle early. We formed a pest control district here two years ago and we have been very aggressive as a growing district on citrus, with mandated spray applications specifically targeted for the ACP. So that has been very high on the radar.

Our crop looks good. Normally, what we do with lemons would be to start at the very end of August or first of September and we are very optimistic with the crop.

We started our sweet corn on the 28th of March, the earliest we have ever started. We have had a wonderful year because the winter was very open on temperatures. We never had any of the dramatic cold temperatures, and the uniformity of the blocks was very strong and allowed us to get some of the best yields we have ever had, with exceptional quality. We grow all three colors; very heavy on white and bicolor, and we do have yellow also.

The Imperial Valley growers have really initiated on-farm water conservation practices. We are using a lot of drip now on certain soil types when it is beneficial. We have worked very hard to manage our water with the best practices possible.

By Luke Wenger, Stanislaus County orchardist

Currently, water is clearly the biggest problem we are facing. This year, we are facing a 60 percent cut in our surface water, which is forcing us to try to get wells put in so that we can use groundwater to help us get through the year. We also pulled out 10 percent of our walnuts this spring, so that we can apply the water from those fields to some of our younger and more productive orchards.

The walnut crop on the early varieties is looking pretty good, but the later varieties are putting on multiple sets that have us concerned that they will be ripening at the wrong time and will not be able to be harvested.

In the almonds, we are seeing a lot of bud failure, especially in older orchards, that is most likely caused from the stress they have gone through from lack of water. Most of these trees with bud failure will need to be pulled out and replanted.

We are also getting the silage corn planted, and we are planting shorter-season, 110-day corn to try to conserve a little water.

The main job we have now is to keep up with the pesticide and herbicide application. In the almonds, we are spraying miticide and are finishing up the blight spray in the walnuts. Weeds are the most consistent problem we have this time of year, and we are spraying weeds instead of mowing them so that they will not be pulling as much moisture out of the ground. In these drought years, every bit of moisture we can save helps.

By Loren Scoto, Merced County tomato farmer

I'm planting tomatoes and irrigating tomatoes. In between, we're getting the equipment ready. We're cultivating and spraying for weeds in the fields. We are on schedule right now. For fresh-market tomatoes, we always plant in acreage intervals so we don't swamp the market when it comes time to pick. So right now, we're at 30-acre intervals. We finished one last week and we're going to start again now, and that will probably take us about two and a half days for that planting interval.

In the Merced area, we have zero allocation from Merced Irrigation District, so we're using 100 percent groundwater. We are very concerned about how quickly the water table is dropping. We already have pumps that are pumping out amazing amounts of sand. It's really just watch and wait and hope for the best at this point.

We fallowed a third of our acreage, which is about a thousand acres. If we don't have a well in a field, then we go to a well on an adjacent field and pipe water to the other field. But the water table is dropping and some of the wells are starting to pump sand. If it pumps nothing but sand, then that well is completely tapped out and we'll probably have to quit using it and redrill it, if we can get on a waiting list. But I think right now, the waiting list is two years.

At the beginning of the year before we plant, we go through what we can and can't plant, based on how much water the crop uses. The stuff that we fallowed uses district water. The stuff that we planted, we've got wells. Last year we got 12 inches from the district, so we really had to take into account how much water a crop uses, and we moved crops around, like we planted cotton in places that we were going to plant corn. We planted corn in places that we previously planted tomatoes. And that was when we had district water on those fields. However, since we have zero district water this year, we just left it 100 percent fallow in those fields and moved over to where we had pumps and wells.

We grow mainly fresh-market tomatoes, so all the tomatoes we have grown in past years, we were able to grow this year, because that's our bread and butter, so we're not going to not grow that. We just planted less cotton and less corn, both silage and grain.

I'm concerned just like everyone else, since we're only on well water out here. In the 1970s, everyone put a pump in just in case but didn't have to use it, because they still had enough district water. And now we have zero district water and we're only using pumps.

If next year is another drought year and we have zero allocation again, then we won't grow anything.