From the Fields® - September 16, 2015

By Scott Hudson, San Bernardino County apple grower

We're up in the mountains and we didn't have a winter this year. We didn't have one last year, but this year was even worse. We didn't get the chill hours, which affected the fruit. Some apple varieties didn't take at all. Some varieties are on a second bloom and the apples are the size of marbles and are probably not going to get much bigger. Some varieties are taking longer than normal to ripen. We're not getting the crops that we normally would get.

We have plenty of water from the springs and wells here in the mountains, but we did not get a winter, so it is a lack of chill hours, plus we had the hottest spring ever. We are at an elevation of 5,000 feet, and temperatures got up to 106 degrees and then dropped back down to the 60s. The trees are totally confused. We have to buy cider fruit because we can't grow enough cider apples and those growers are having the same problems.

On the agritourism side, business is up. We are very fortunate. We make cider, apple-cider donuts, sell gifts and we now have a winery. Customers are coming in record numbers, so that is a good sign. The size of the crop is not the best, but we'll have apples. We'll go to Dec. 1 or maybe longer, depending on our wine sales. Our wines are selling out, which is very encouraging.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

We're winding things up for the year and hopefully we'll get some rain toward the end of the month. We're looking at a potentially bad fire year here in our area in Mendocino County. Usually late September, early October is the time when we have the lowest humidity and wind, so everybody has to be paying attention to that.

The most important thing is to make sure that your house and any of your structures have defensible space around them. That's really important; I can't say that enough because if you don't have defensible space and you have a fire, there's just really not a lot that people are going to be able to do to get the fire out. That's No. 1. Then, we always need to pay attention to ignition sources. We need to prevent ignitions from happening. It is the Smokey the Bear message that only you can prevent wildfires. If we don't have ignitions, then we don't have fires. That is critical, and most fires are caused by people and you just really have to be paying attention out in the woods.

Also, make sure that your equipment has the leaves cleaned out from the manifold on the engine—that's a common place for fires to start. Something else is to make sure that you have fuel breaks in the woods to ensure that if there is a fire, you have some way of containing it.

Regarding the timber market, the export market has really weakened and that is because the demand in China has weakened. That has hurt Douglas fir prices quite a bit. That hasn't yet carried over to redwood prices.

I just need to add that I'm lucky to be doing what I am doing and I feel blessed.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Here in the Lodi area, as far as the winegrapes, harvest started off extremely early, the earliest crop harvested on record. We actually started July 27 and never started in July in the past. Typically, if there is a normal year, we would start around Aug. 20. So far, the quality seems to be very good; the crop is average in size. The majority of our winegrapes are machine harvested. There are a lot of older vines that require hand picking and I am hearing that there is a shortage of labor for the hand-picking crews and this adds to increased costs.

As far as water, we have been OK. We are able to use some surface water in some areas and some well water. Most of the vineyards are on drip irrigation.

One of the challenges as far as harvest is that while in a typical year chardonnay starts first, this year we are picking chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon at the same time, which is unusual. It makes it more challenging at the winery to handle whites and reds at the same time.

We harvest mainly at night and we could see the red skies glowing to the east of us with the fires in the foothills. Our hearts go out to those affected and the struggles they are going through. It isn't just the Butte fire but all fires.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We are just coming off of a hot period in the weather. We are at the end of our seventh cutting of alfalfa, which is about on par with what we get each year. We might be five days ahead in heat units for alfalfa from last year’s crop, but it is very close to the same. Yields are right around historical averages.

As far as cotton, over the last two years we had an unprecedented brown stinkbug epidemic. We decided to not treat for them at all this year and we went from 1,000 acres of cotton to 100 acres of cotton. Adding to the challenge is that right now the whitefly pressure is horrendous.

We are getting ready to plant potatoes, garlic and onions in the next three weeks. Garlic and onions are typically planted in October and harvested in July, while the potatoes are also planted in October and harvested in February.

We are fallowing 35 percent of our acreage for an ag-to-urban water transfer and that is the maximum fallowing that can annually occur. We are in the 11th year of a 35-year ag-to-urban water transfer program.

As an interesting aside, last year on Sept. 8, the north end of our Palo Verde Valley got about 4 inches of rain. It was a major isolated downpour. We get annually 3 inches of rain, so this was unprecedented. Then on Sept. 8 of this year, on the south end of the valley in Yuma, a huge storm dumped between 4 and 6 inches of rain. It brought severe wind and isolated rain to our area, but fortunately, it wasn’t like what they got on the south end of the valley.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

It has been a fairly warm summer. I’m not sure if that is related to El NiƱo, but evening lows are quite a bit warmer than normal and it has been humid. Things are growing fairly quickly.

People just don’t have the water, so they have cut back on planted acres. Even though we had an inch-plus of rain in July, that helped for about a week, but it’s back to the same old thing of no water. That rain didn’t do anything to replenish the groundwater.

One of our main crops is Chinese napa cabbage and that has suffered in the fourth year of drought. There’s a lot of salt buildup in the soil and it is a salt-sensitive crop. There are other crops that we’re seeing the effects of salt buildup in irregular stands or irregular growth to the field. We’re using soil amendments like gypsum and other materials, but it’s only putting a Band-Aid on the problem and not solving the problem completely.

People have fallowed acres due to lack of water and that has created a shortage similar to last year. The cilantro price in August reached a historic high, partly due to the warm nighttime temperatures creating bolting problems and also the ban on product coming out of Mexico.

Labor again is very tight this year. We are using one H-2A crew, which has helped, but labor is even tighter than it was last year. We’re struggling to harvest all of our crops on time and we have seen crop losses due to lack of labor to be able to harvest in a timely manner.