From the Fields® - September 2, 2015

By Kulwant Johl, Yuba and Sutter counties peach and prune farmer

We just got done with peach harvest. It was a very good harvest. We had good weather, good quality of peaches. There were no problems. The crop was a week to 10 days early this year, which really didn't cause any problems. We had plenty of water in this area, so it all worked out OK. It was a good crop. 

I finished with prune harvest last week. Prunes were early too—also a week to 10 days. But same thing there: We had a good crop with both quality and yield. It's nice when you have nothing to complain about.

We did not have any problems with labor. The reason is because more and more peaches are harvested by machine, so that's why we had plenty of labor. 

From here, we start again with cleaning up the orchard. We've got to irrigate it and at the same time we need to look at our nutrient program. When you're a tree farmer, the work never stops. 

By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County diversified grower

This summer is better, compared to last summer. We have a bit more water available for our livestock and haven't had to haul any water yet. But the season isn't over and we still may need to haul water in the future.

Last year, we had about 11 inches of rain but this year, we had close to 30 inches. The ground is so dry, it soaked up a lot of the rain. The water table is still low and our spring-fed streams have dried up. The creek by our house has dried up, and that hasn't happened since 1975. Our family has ranched here since 1940, so that's saying something.

Right now our cows are calving. We've had a couple of kills from coyotes, so we're keeping a close watch. We've got our eye on issues related to federal trapping services in Mendocino County. Because our part of the state is a lot more rugged and remote, we rely on federal trappers when we have major predator problems.

Our animals are in good condition, partly because we have a little better feed, but a lot of livestock producers have had to sell animals early.

Timber harvest in Lake and Mendocino counties has been ongoing, but it's at reduced levels because of drastically increased regulatory costs. We can't compete on price with Washington and Oregon. Consumers buy out-of-state lumber because it's cheaper.

 

By Steve Arnold, San Luis Obispo County rancher and winegrape grower

The winegrape harvest is underway in San Luis Obispo County.  They are picking some of the early varieties already, which is a little early, and I think most of the state is feeling that. Where I am, we would normally pick in October and I think we are looking at the middle of September, maybe around Sept. 20 for the early varieties. 

I have all red varieties of winegrapes—cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and merlot.  We source some grenache blanc to make some white wines. We also got a lot of pinot grigio from a friend in the Central Valley, just so we could play with making some white wine. 

The cattle market is still incredibly good and the hay market, in which we grow a little bit of hay, is not good at all. In fact, we are having a hard time even moving that product. I probably would have been better off buying cattle and feeding the hay, as opposed to fighting all the elements that we are fighting now. 

At this point, we are expanding our cattle herd. We are not expanding through purchase, we are expanding through our own genetics. We are saving our heifer calves and choosing to go about it that way. We had a livestock market in Templeton that closed down, so now we pretty much are going to Visalia with our cattle. 

 

By Chris Britton, Stanislaus County tree fruit farmer

The apple crop is beginning to wind down a little bit. Right now, we're in the middle of picking Granny Smith and Fuji. We're only done with Gala at this point, but yield was good. Quality was good. Markets are average. So I think all in all it's going to be a profitable year. 

It's been a little warm at times, but for the most part, we've had cool evenings, which is important for apples to get color. For the most part, apples have been good. Size is down a little bit this year across the board on all varieties, but we just had more pieces on the trees than what we typically have. 

We'll have Pink Lady by Oct. 1. We generally harvest Fuji and Granny Smith for six weeks. Our varieties are staggered so that they come on at different times so that we can keep a crew working until about the 15th of November. 

I would say we're 10 days earlier than what we would normally be. At this point, it's hard to say if that's going to translate into an early finish. The Washington crop was very early as well, so there is some competition there with them being early. But I don't think it's going to be a huge economic impact. 

We haven't had any issues with pests. We just do the normal protocols with our spray programs that are preventive in nature. We haven't had any outbreaks. 

Water is certainly tight. We've made some concessions to that effect. We've definitely cut back on the amount of water that we put on. We've been doing that for a few years, so we know where we need to be in terms of how much water needs to go on to keep trees where they need to be.  

Labor is certainly tight. I'm sure everyone is feeling the same pinch as we are. We've had enough to do the job, but certainly there's not an excess of labor. We're not turning people away. We could use a few more. 

 

By Larry Massa, Glenn County diversified grower

Range conditions are improved compared to last year because we had near normal rainfall last winter.  There's a lot of dry feed left over from the winter grazing season. This has allowed some ranchers in our area to summer-over a limited amount of cattle on their winter range. 

Stock ponds and wells are at near normal levels, which is the opposite of last year, when ponds and wells were going dry during the spring and summer months. Most of the Massa cattle are on irrigated pasture in the Sacramento Valley or in the mountains of Lassen County.

When I started shipping cattle to the mountains in May, I expected to stock at half of the normal rate due to the lack of rainfall.  However, rainshowers frequented the area during May and June in amounts that completely turned the situation around. We were able to fully stock the pastures.

The calves are growing well and the cows are in a very good condition.  What a stark turnaround from a year ago.  Hopefully, we will receive adequate rainfall this winter season so that all of this state's farmers and ranchers can begin to recover from this drought.

In the rice country, the medium-grain rice we planted is well into the heading stage.  As of this writing, we have shut off the irrigation water, drained some fields and expect to begin harvest around the 10th to 14th of September.

Irrigation water has been in short supply, as it is in most other parts of the state. With only about half the acreage normally planted to rice, we'd expect a fairly decent price on the harvested crop this fall. However, that's not the case.  Millers are telling growers we cannot expect a better price than last year because of the American dollar's strength in foreign markets, substitution of California medium-grain rice with Japonica varieties and lost markets due to last winter's dock strike.