From the Fields® - July 22, 2015

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

As far as verasion, cabernet sauvignon is just starting; chardonnay is moving along and we are starting to do sugar tests; sauvignon blanc and pinot gris are around 14 or 15 degrees sugar; zinfandel is almost done with verasion. As far as the overall crop, some blocks look light, some blocks look normal. From my perspective, it will be a normal or below normal yield across the board.

Last year, we started harvesting some sauvignon blanc on Aug. 14; this year, I think we might be a couple days earlier than that.

The concern the last couple days is the ALRB and UFW notice to access farms (see Comment). We had a meeting a couple days ago where we talked about our rights and how best to deal with this. So this is a big concern, but not just here. I've heard that this is going on around the state, particularly in the Monterey area where the salad bowl is located.

Regarding labor, it gets more difficult every year to find hardworking, dedicated people. It is even more difficult to find the skilled workers to drive the tractors and harvesters and so on.

The market has been quiet if you have grapes for sale. There haven't been a lot of people fishing around, so that is a concern. Sometimes when a contract ends, what are you supposed to do? What some people are looking at as an alternative, especially with an older vineyard, is to change the crop, taking out vineyards and putting in all of these different types of trees. It makes economic sense. That has been happening a little bit on the edges of Lodi. The big thing is the cost of labor for a vineyard versus these trees. It is a huge difference.

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County orchardist

We are shaking almonds. I started on July 16, the earliest I ever started. These were five-year-old trees. Last year I started on the 18th and this year I started on the 16th. Go figure. It has been really warm. We had that exceptionally hot June and not a whole lot of winter. Bloom was probably a little earlier than normal. But last year I had bloom on Jan. 30 and this year it was on the 14th of February.

Some of the growers that I harvest for have been on well water for the past couple years, and their trees are suffering because of the poor water quality. I have another neighbor that started on the 10th of July. His trees have been on well water for four years now and those trees are fried. There are guys who are losing orchards. They will be pulling them out at the end of the year.

I pulled out 200 acres after last year's harvest and I have not been able to plant back. At this point, I have no plans to put anything back in because of the water situation. The land is going to be idle. I'll still have to pay taxes on it and that sort of thing, but it will not generate any income, that's for sure.

I have some pistachios in Mendota. They aren't producing yet. They look fine. I also have some high-density plantings of olives. They are on well water too, but they are very difficult to take out; they are pretty sturdy.

There's a lot of talk about El Niño, but you never know about the weather. If I ever go out of business as a farmer, I will become a weatherman. That way I will always have a job, even if I am 50 percent wrong.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer

The peaches and the apricots are about two weeks early. So far, the quality of the peaches and apricots is good. We had high heat early, which enabled the trees to ripen a lot sooner. We're going to be about two weeks early in general. We are anticipating the prunes will be ahead of schedule, and we're going to start shaking prunes around the first of August and almonds around Aug. 10. I had no idea there were that many prunes on the tree. We are having some limb breakage and we're getting crews in to lighten the limbs so that the tree does not break down.

Regarding water, we are OK with what is coming out of Solano Irrigation District. We had problems out of Yolo County. I was only able to get one irrigation and then a well we thought had gone bad, we put a diesel booster on it and have been able to get two irrigations out of it, so we will be able to squeak by. With other irrigation districts, things have been difficult; Clear Lake and Inland Valley Dam are at historically low levels.

We still have a very, very tight labor situation. We just don't know if there will be enough employees for the prune, pistachio, almond and walnut harvests. We're debating that maybe some of the guys that went to Napa to finish the grapes will be coming back, but labor is extremely tight. I don't foresee it getting any better for the rest of the year.

We are concerned about pricing on the walnuts because of the increased value of the dollar and because China has slowed down. We're probably going to have an all-time record walnut crop with a large carryover from last year, so that's going to put a lot of pressure on pricing. We anticipate that almond pricing will be good, maybe not as good as last year, but still good. Prunes are in short supply so we're anticipating a price similar to last year. But, with a very big prune crop, that may change.

We're all trying to hang in there and fight all of the issues.

By BJ Van Dam, San Bernardino County dairy farmer

Earlier in the year, we talked about the losses we had experienced, and how we had managed to make the appropriate decisions to begin building ourselves back up during the good times of 2014.

But we also mentioned our concerns about the construction that was encroaching on our property. As we're preparing this report, our road is now closed to through traffic, and will remain that way for at least six months.

Unfortunately, no one within the city or within the construction company feels any need to enforce these signs. This has led to a large number of vehicles turning around in our barn driveway throughout the day, every day.

Now, on top of our concerns about the lower milk prices, the future of the petition to become a part of the federal milk marketing order, and the regular everyday agribusiness concerns, we find ourselves worrying about our biosecurity. The random vehicles coming onto our property every day gives us reason to worry about just how secure our facility really is anymore, when it comes to biosecurity.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer

We have completed our garbonzo harvest, and the crop looks decent. We will be starting tomatoes next week. I am a little concerned about the thunderstorms as a result of Hurricane Dolores. The rain could negatively affect our tomatoes and garlic. The garlic is still about a month away.

Cotton is progressing well and developing nicely. There are some mixed bags around the valley in terms of how it looks, but in our case it looks pretty good. The wheat harvest is complete and the yields were average to above average.

Almonds are in hull split. Some guys around here are already harvesting almonds. I suspect that in the next two weeks, a lot of folks will be harvesting the nonpareils.

The good thing about these crops being finished is that we stop using water and that helps the situation.

The insect pressure on all of these crops has been more or less average, so we haven't had any heavy pressure.

They are talking about an El Niño; let it come. Whether we get the crops off or not, we need the rain. We can't be choosy now. They are comparing this El Niño to the one in 1997, which was a big one. And they are saying this El Niño may be even stronger than that.