From the Fields® - January 6, 2016

By Pete Belluomini, Kern County diversified grower

Currently, we're harvesting our fresh market potatoes—whites, reds and yellows—we plant in September and harvest in the winter. Now we're planning the potato crops we'll harvest in spring and summer.

We've got organic carrots being harvested and we have a citrus operation that's in full swing.

We've had some nippy mornings, but so far no damaging frosts. We're moving along at a pretty good harvesting clip.

We have a variety of citrus—navels, easy-peel tangerines, lemons—and the crop looks good. We're also planting organic kale and Swiss chard for spring harvest. Those crops come to maturity fast. We also do some early onions.

We've got other organic crops, like tomatoes, and we're just thinking about those crops that will be harvested in the summer.

By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

In 2015, we saw the earliest and quickest winegrape harvest that any of us on the Central Coast can remember. We actually had harvested and made several lots of cabernet sauvignon into wine and shipped them to a winery customer at a point where in normal years that cabernet sauvignon would still be hanging on the vines in the vineyard.

Harvest actually seemed like a memory by the time Thanksgiving came around, whereas the conclusion of harvest often competes with the date for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, after three large harvests in a row for California, quantity-wise the state came up short in 2015. Some growers in our area are reporting yields down 50 percent to 60 percent.

Qualitatively, all the initial feedback from wineries is that 2015 will make some great wines; however, there won't be much of it.

Looking prospectively forward to 2016, we are still waiting on the El Niño rain that hasn't truly started for us yet. In the vineyards, we are spending time preparing for what we hope will be a very wet winter, prepping for flood and erosion control, which seems to all be performed with an ironic edge, as the drought continues to be a topic on everyone's mind.

By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

Prior to the cool weather, we have been maintaining our hives for better bee strength. With the rain and the cool weather, we are just monitoring their condition and hoping for more rain. The rains will help the plants for the next season. Because of the cooler weather, there is not a lot of plant growth yet. In some of the warmer areas, the bees might work, depending on what plants are available.

We have had several dry years and the trouble now is that a lot of these plants will take one to two years to get back to where they will do the bees justice. So that is another problem that is a long-range problem. If we continue to get some good weather and the plants drop their seeds, we will start getting some of those plants back to the way it used to be. But right now, it is slow going and nothing is coming on fast at all.

Right now, we are just kind of gearing up in anticipation of what is going to go on in the next month or so. Usually, we start getting active putting bees in the almond orchards anywhere from mid-January to mid-February, depending on the weather. If things remain cool, we will start about normal. We are also working on our agreements with the almond growers for pollination fees.

A few years ago, we used to ship out our bees to the Dakotas following almond pollination, but every time we did it they had weather problems back there too. The trucking costs have escalated, too, and that doesn't help. If you don't get a good honey crop back there, it is kind of like just trading problems.

By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

As we wrap up 2015 and look back on our third consecutive successful year for California melon growers, three things stick out.

First, yields and returns were well above average and in some cases record-breaking. Pricing was strong throughout the season and the dog days of August never materialized. Strong pricing and an above-average yield puts a smile on a grower's face.

Second, water usage was minimized through conservation and increased drip irrigation acreage. In fact, we used less than 12 inches of water on several drip-irrigated fields.

Third, despite reports to the contrary, acres across the state were similar to years past. From marginal dirt to areas unaccustomed to melons, the acres were planted and the crop found water.

Looking ahead to 2016, I see much of the same. Even with a wet winter, water and our plumbing system will continue to dominate the headlines and leave growers in a predicament for crop mapping. This leaves melons as an excellent alternative. Between necessary rotation, the value of the dollar, and poor commodity pricing, melon acres will certainly be planted and could be up 10-15 percent. While this may affect pricing at times, planned marketing and targeted buy-side efforts will help.

More importantly, assuming fuel prices remain similar, freight will be low enough to compete with Midwest and Southeastern growers for East Coast business. This is luxury we never had this past summer.

By Stan Lester, Yolo County diversified grower

Looking towards 2016, there's both bad and good news.

The bad news is that many walnut growers have heard about and now are receiving payment for their 2015 crop. Prices growers are receiving for their walnuts are very sobering. It reminds me of what happened to walnut prices in 2008 and 2009 with the world market crash.

Depending on walnut quality, growers are receiving one-half or less of what they received for last year's crop of equal quality.

Imagine working all year, expecting to receive X dollars per hour for a whole year's work, and your boss says, "Sorry, I can only afford to pay you half for all of your work!"

But this is the supply and demand. The reasons are many, but include record worldwide supply for the second year in a row, handlers are holding expensive 2014 crop and are not willing or able to sell in a falling market, and not able to properly store a perishable crop such as walnuts.

We also had a West Coast dockworkers slowdown a year ago, prime time for walnut exports. A strong U.S. dollar is also making our walnuts expensive to purchase for export.

Now for some better news. The California Walnut Board has dramatically increased the advertising for walnuts, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing a substantial amount of walnuts to include in their school lunch programs.

These actions, along with some lower cost to consumers, will help our customers realize what an affordable and healthy food walnuts are and add them to their daily diet.

More good news: We got by yet another year with barely enough water for our crops, in spite of the ongoing drought. We are also now getting snow in the mountains, rain in the valley and cold temperatures to provide good dormancy for our tree crops.

Look forward to 2016 and beyond, we need to be vigilant in monitoring our elected officials and the non-elected officials in our regulatory agencies, to allow our businesses and all employees to thrive in this great state and nation. Every proposal should have a net positive effect to our economy before being adopted.

Most of all, this time of year allows us to take time to celebrate Christmas and New Years with family and friends; also to realize that, even with all of the challenges we have in life, we live in the United States of America and we are the envy of the world. Let's be vigilant in keeping it that way. Happy New Year.