From the Fields® - August 19, 2015

By Russell Doty, Santa Barbara County avocado and lemon grower

On our operation, we finished picking our avocados a lot earlier than normal. We have one more lemon harvest coming up, probably in September or October. Our avocados were more mature countywide and a little further along this year because of the drought. We chose to just get everything off because we didn't expect any price increase worth keeping the fruit on the trees and risking any fruit drop.

From what I've heard from other farmers in the area, most people are done harvesting avocados by now, which is really early.

I know that we are struggling in the northern part of the county with water. Our district water source is going to dry up soon, so people need their own water sources. A lot of avocado growers are stumping their trees to relieve some of the pressure on our water source.

I know that labor is still an issue, particularly for the strawberry farmers. Pickers are constantly leaving one farm to go to another to make more money.

Our lemon crop is good. Every year we are getting better. We have done some things to help with some of our pests, one of them being snails. We actually paint the trunk with a paint and copper mixture that keeps the snails from getting up into the trees. Our quality has gone up a lot and it has made a big difference in our grade-outs.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County orchardist

This is the earliest almond harvest on record. We started shaking on July 22 and normally it is the end of August or first week in September; that would be our normal start date for this area. I have already picked up and delivered all my Nonpareils.

With the warm spring that we had, the trees weren't under stress. The navel orangeworm pressure was higher than normal this year as there was a third flight. So it was good to get the almonds down on the ground before the third flight started hitting them. This enabled us to avoid a high reject level. We were able to maintain a good quality crop and get it in early.

Up here in the North State, everything that has been harvested so far has been coming in heavier than last year. We are quite pleased with yields and the high quality. It looks like our reject levels will probably be under 1 percent.

Our prune harvest is also underway. It is a very heavy crop. Glenn County basically didn't have a prune crop last year because of the lack of chilling hours and the warm spring. They just didn't have a bloom. It was so bad that part of my orchard wasn't even harvested last year. I actually collected crop insurance for the first time ever. This year, the sugar levels on the prunes are running very high, which helps on the dry away ratio and puts more money in the grower's pocket.

Like everyone else, I had to buy expensive water and we did put in a couple wells. I survived the year with the water I purchased and was able to get from the wells. We stretched out the irrigations a little more than we would have liked to do, but we did OK this year. The wells did drop, but most people up here were surprised that the wells held up as much as they did. So now we pray for a wet winter.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified farmer

We're in between seasons right now. Most people are doing tractor work to get ready for produce season. We're doing tillage and irrigating the soil, working up the ground.

But at the same time, the annual crops like alfalfa and Bermuda seed crops are still being harvested. It's about working up the ground and getting it in shape for produce.

We'll start planting vegetable crops in late September, but with all the new varieties, the season keeps widening out and we have a longer production season. We'll be going at it heavy in October, November, December and January.

Our season keeps starting earlier and earlier. When I was a kid, we'd start in late October, but with new varieties, available water and strong consumer demand, we can supply the market for a longer time.

We're working on water conservation programs here and keeping an eye on the Colorado River. Our fallowing program to transfer water to send to San Diego under the Quantification Settlement Agreement comes to an end in 2017.

We've been ramping up conservation through on-farm investments and innovations. The Imperial Irrigation District has been paying farmers for water conserved that way after measuring against our baseline allocation, and farmers continue to make investments in conservation.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower

We've been working hard to manage the effects of the drought on our nursery. For the past few months, we have instituted whatever changes possible in order to cut back our water use.

These included converting to more efficient drip irrigation systems, installing more irrigation controllers, employee training to improve management of our irrigation practices and consolidating plant blocks more frequently.

Additionally, we cut our production numbers to meet water cutback targets imposed by our water district, as well as to match the decrease in demand by consumers striving to cut their own water use.

Our challenges have been guessing which plants would continue to sell well and which would not, and deciding if we should cut back more.

It has turned out to be like choosing a line to get into at the ballpark. No matter which one you choose, you would be wrong.

By John Moore, Kern County diversified grower

We just finished harvesting potatoes. We are about on average for potatoes. One thing about this drought is that if you have water, you can grow a pretty good crop, but you have to manage it very well because of the different funguses and pests that we see because of the warm weather. This was a good year for the potato crop.

Right now, we are planting carrots. We finished harvesting our Nonpareil almonds last week and next week will be harvesting our Montereys. Everyone in Kern County seems to be in between their Monterey and Nonpareils.

We are gearing up for pistachio harvest in about three weeks.

We are trying to sustain our water supplies as much as we can. We are part of the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District, so we are OK as far as water is concerned. We are prorated 1.3 acre-feet through the district, and we are relying a lot on our personal wells. But we have been managing pretty well throughout the year, so we do have some water supplies left.

We have in our almonds all drip irrigation, and we changed out the sprinkler nozzles on our impact sprinklers for potatoes and carrots to a low-pressure nozzle, which takes less power and actually gives us some water savings as well.

Nut crops look decent. I've heard that almonds are spotty in Kern County, but everything looks OK. We are battling a little bit of rust and the water stress has done a little damage to the almonds, but we are managing as best we can.