From the Fields® - February 17, 2016

By Burt Bundy, Tehama County aquaculture producer

We're not actively selling fish right now and are downsizing to prepare for retirement. We'll need to find someone who's more active in the fish business to take over and go out and get new markets.

We are continuing to grow fish for stocking, with supplies going to events like "Hooked on Fishing" and stocking of private lakes in the Bay Area. That's where our market is and we aren't going out and trying to expand our customer base.

But the market for stocked fish seems stable, even with the drought. Sales to the state through the Department of Fish and Wildlife have dropped off somewhat. Recreational fishing continues to be a popular pastime and sales remain steady.

One thing I see happening with aquaculture, which is often done on leased land, is the water being put to different uses like almond and walnut orchards or residential development. However, I see fish farmers staying in the business, getting more established and buying their own land.

Regulations for the fish-growing business, like everything else, are overwhelming. Warm water fisheries rely on warm water, mostly well water, and so far we haven't had problems with supplies, but it's always in the back of our mind.

With the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act coming into play, there's going to be even more regulation to deal with.

Right now we're getting equipment ready and gearing up for our June sales. We are ramping up our feeding program as water temperatures warm.

We've done most of our sorting to put different fish sizes in different ponds. As the recreational market heats up in the late spring and early summer, we'll be ready.

By Russel van Loben Sels, Sacramento County diversified grower

We're not quite through with pruning the pear trees and probably have another couple of weeks to go. Bloom usually occurs the second to third week in March and we're expecting it to be on time.

We had enough cold hours, so the trees look pretty healthy, but we've been dealing with a terrible blight infestation that's carrying over into the spring. Taking care of blight involves a lot of spraying and infections have to be removed by hand. It's a big expense. And, it's difficult to find qualified labor to do the work.

Pears produce on old wood and when the blight is being amputated, the next year's crop is being cut out and the loss of production costs money, too. The problem hasn't been confined to my trees. It's in orchards all over the river. This is the worst blight I've seen in more than 20 years.

Conditions for blight usually are the result of late rains, humidity and higher temperatures, but nobody knows exactly why the infestations occur. But, last year the infestation took off and expanded pretty badly. Most people began cutting blight last year right after harvest—treating the trees from August through December.

It's pretty easy to see it as the infestation progresses. It starts with bloom and infects the flowers, then a branch is infected. It progresses under the bark and moves toward the trunk. It's like gangrene.

Cutting it out means you have to know what you're doing, cutting the wood out beyond the infection. It calls for careful sanitation to avoid spreading the disease on tools. We work with buckets of bleach and continuously spray tools.

When blight gets into big wood near the heart of the tree, we'll scrape limbs and the scaffold and spray with bleach to save the tree, but sometimes a tree can't be saved.

In the vineyards, we're pretty much through pruning and the vines look pretty good. Our triticale is growing and there hasn't been any damage from the (Sacramento) river going over flood stage.

The worry for us is not our own water supply, but supplies for the rest of California. Then there are fights about curtailment of those of senior water rights. With the water rights, we're OK.

Dry springs usually provide the best growing conditions for us. We have uniformity of moisture in the soil. When the Sacramento River is running high, it's a swamp out here and we can't farm very well.

Dry spells helps us, but it's not good when there isn't water for everybody else.

By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery grower

We did pretty well with our Christmas plants. Our poinsettias are always pre-sold and we grow as much as we can in as much room as we have.

Of course since Christmas it has rained a lot and there usually isn't much nursery business in January. We're hoping the spring planting season will be OK, but we're cutting down on the number of plants they'll grow for the season.

It's hard to figure, but the sales might not be there. We took big losses last year. Usually, if spring starts out warm from Presidents' Day weekend on, sales are good.

But the continued water shortage may prevent people from buying bedding flowers this year too. We don't use a lot of water to start the plants and consumers don't need a lot of water to keep them going. There are a lot of ways to stretch water in the garden. And, with all the rain in January, the ground should be pretty moist.

The way the nursery business works now with the big box stores is that they don't buy the nursery stock. They take them on consignment and return plants for credit. The stores are protected; the growers aren't.

It has been a challenge to partner with the big box stores. The stores want us to help with spring promotions, for example a sale on jumbo packs. They wanted to sell them for 88 cents, but it costs us $1.50 to put them in the stores. We said we couldn't do it because we'd lose too much money. They decided to take 20 stores away from us.

The big selling months are April and May. Last spring we had lots of plants ready and couldn't sell them. We had to throw them out and took a tremendous loss. Fortunately the rest of the year was pretty good and we were able to break even.

There are a lot more plant choices these days, interesting hybrids and perennials that are great bloomers for the yard. Consumers have a lot to work with these days. We hope they'll get in the garden. All we can do is hope for a good spring.

By Eric Anderson, San Diego County nursery producer

We're about ready to harvest seeds from plants on about 20 acres. In some cases we are harvesting seeds from plants that are 20 or 30 years old. The seed crop looks good this year.

Pachypodium is one plant variety we've been working on and increased seed sales have given us a foot in the door to succulents. We sell seeds for asparagus ferns, palms, cycads, eucalyptus, bird of paradise and many more, with seeds grown in our greenhouse and outdoors.

After harvest, we process the seeds, cleaning them from pulp if the seeds are in berries. Then there's the drying and packing. We ship all over the world and over the past 10 years demand has been strong from China, but it's a competitive market.

Southern Europe has also been increasing production and buying more from us, but our biggest customers have always been the Dutch.

Challenges continues to be water and the state Water Resources Control Board has been good about working with us. We're included in the urban water conservation requirements, but with the help of Farm Bureau, our cutback was dropped from 30 percent to 15 percent, which has really helped.

Last year, because of the drought, our seed crop was greatly reduced. With the cost of water we couldn't really increase our seed supply.

But this is already a better year. Our sales are up about 20 percent over last year, but not back to 2006-07 levels.