From the Fields® - October 7, 2015

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

Everything on the farm continues to keep pace with signs of an early harvest, as it has been with other crops around us. Olive bloom actually started a month earlier than the traditional full bloom date we set as May 15.

An early harvest is always welcome on the farm, as traditionally the bulk of our harvest, for the type of oil we want to produce, is December and January and rough weather can see crop loss. Certainly we're hoping for an early harvest and then a stormy, wet winter.

The past few weeks have seen the olives come out of their midsummer heat holding pattern and really start to put on the size. It should be a great year as far as yields, and perhaps one of those great years where the excess olives we produce, above the needs of our own olive oil use, finally see a good per ton price in the oil market.

We have had a lot of inquiries on the farm recently about the availability of bulk olive oil and certainly hope that demand carries into harvest.

Our Meyer lemons are starting to color, but it looks like it will be a short harvest compared to a record yield last year. We primarily grow them for use in our lemon olive oil and then rely on our farm friends in the south state to make up any shortfall with our crop.

By Chris Lange, Tulare County diversified grower

We have been getting by the drastic water cuts because we have well water, some district water and, when opportunity arises, we have been able to buy expensive spot water. We are using every water resource to maintain our farming operation.

Like so many California growers, we're taking measures to reduce water requirements and, as a result, we're pushing out old, low-producing acreage. Our future plan, when water becomes available, is to develop higher-producing orchards.

We have started our olive harvest, which looks better than the 2014 crop, with improved prices. The "Catch 22" is shortage of labor and increased labor harvest costs.

Overall, we're optimistic. Our Valencia crop is wrapping up with decent production and prices. Soon, we will be looking at our mandarin, lemon and navel orange crops.

They appear to be maturing two weeks before normal. Quality looks very good and size structure and early maturity tests look excellent.

Dry-on-the-vine raisins appear to be about 20 percent above last year's harvest. Even with our reduced cow/calf operation, cows and bulls look good. Calves are being born every day.

There isn't much feed on our hillsides, but our winter oat hay was about average and is handling the feed needs with our reduced herd. We're hopeful for the future.

By James Durst, Yolo County organic grower

Summer crops of melons and tomatoes have been good quality, and sales and pricing are strong with demand exceeding production, even with high yields.

We decided to increase harvest wages for the second year and this has resulted in steady harvest crews with little or no attrition. Our goal is to attract the best pickers and pay them the highest wage possible, to reduce turnover and keep morale high. Employees are the greatest asset we have.

Water has been less of an issue this year. And with small surface water deliveries, we have been able to keep a steady irrigation schedule with both pumps and surface water.

As we move into fall we are extremely busy, with multiple harvest fronts at one time and days are full with harvest, ground preparation for 2016 and wrapping up year-end business. It is a time to be grateful.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower

We're done with harvesting avocados and lemons. We might get a small avocado pick before the packinghouse closes its books, but other than that, it's a quiet time for us.

We're keeping busy though with irrigation upgrades. We're ever more vigilant and judicious with our water use.

We're in the process of putting in two new weather stations that will electronically monitor soil, temperature and humidity to better manage our water use. Other growers in our area are using advanced monitoring systems in their groves.

I'm particularly interested in remote temperature sensors so I can keep track during cold spells. One of the things that goes along with the system are sensors to track irrigation needs. So we'll get multiple benefits when the system is operational.

The other day, we worked on installing the system for four hours and we were on the phone with tech support. I'm an old dog, and getting technology to work isn't easy. There was a lot of cussing by the consultant helping us.

Another area of concern where we think technology might help is security. Growers in my area are looking at installing remote cameras at all entry points to their property so they can monitor activity in real time. We're considering that option, but it's a whole different subject.

Our production levels have been good and growers' prices have been steady. Two years ago, we had a hot spell in our area just as avocado bloom occurred. Because our trees are at a higher elevation and are more accustomed to higher temperatures, the heat didn't seem to affect our trees.

That was not the case for growers in the lower elevations near the coast. As it turns out, we had good yields this year, even though production in our area was generally lower.

But the agricultural picture overall in Ventura County isn't that good. There's no water and people have been scrambling trying to activate old wells and the pipelines and creeks have dried up. It's hard to make it when you're fallowing ground. Everyone is wondering when the next shoe will drop.

By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County diversified grower

We still have processing tomatoes to harvest, about 200 acres. We grow under contract, but get a premium for late-season tomatoes. The canneries will probably run to mid-October.

We had some rain and that could be a factor on what's left of the crop. It depends on what happens with the weather. If the wind comes up and it doesn't get too warm, we might not get much mold. It all depends on the weather the next few days.

When we start to see mold as we harvest, we know it's over then. It depends on what levels the cannery will accept.

Processed tomatoes are a globally traded commodity, and I think the canneries have more than they need and they're hoping for rain. They're talking about 14 million tons of tomatoes under contract across the state, and that's a lot of tomatoes.

The drought really hasn't caused a shift in planting location because of water. The canneries have been planting and harvesting in many locations. Farmers who've traditionally grown tomatoes are set up for the crop—they have the equipment and a lot of experience.

When the grower price is $80 a ton, farmers make a profit. But if it goes down next year, then the question is whether the margin is there, or is it a case of trading dollars? It's hard to get a good crop all the time, and that dictates whether tomato farmers make any money.

We've got walnuts too, and the prices have come down. I've been growing walnuts a long time and I'm not going to get out of it. Even with lower prices, I think we'll make some money.

The drought has had an impact. We fallowed about 200 acres this year. We planted hay and harvested an early cutting, but then let the land go fallow because we didn't have enough water to keep going.