From the Fields® - April 6, 2016

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County diversified farmer

We are cherry and walnut growers in the Linden area and we have been busy with spring activities being well underway.

Cherries have finished blooming and we are now finishing our small fruit nutrient and mildew spray on all varieties, from about March 21 on. The bloom was staggered between the rain for late and early varieties as well. Warmer February temperatures brought on an earlier bloom, about seven to10 days. This helped orchards split the heavy rainfall we had in a span of 10 days in early March.

Reports of crop set are coming in from the area and we are hearing that due to factors of rain and early bloom set, orchards are either set well or spotty throughout. We will know how well the crop looks once there is some color showing.

As for the walnuts, we are wrapping up pruning, again delayed by rain. Most varieties like Vinas, Serrs, Howards and Tulares are well underway with blight sprays. Chandlers and Hartleys are in the beginning to middle stages of catkin expansion and "prayer" stages, so we will be addressing blight sprays in early April.

Weeds will be addressed as well this month, as long as we are mindful of walnut suckering and cherry preharvest intervals.

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified farmer

We are enjoying beautiful weather. A few days ago, there was a significant wind that brought the temperatures down a little bit, but for the most part the lower desert has enjoyed exceptional growing weather. Since the middle of February until now, with the exception of two fronts, the weather has been ideal.

We did start our sweet corn on March 28, which is tied for the earliest that we have started in the last 26 years. The quality is very nice, so that is full steam ahead. Most of our sweet corn is sold west of the Rockies. We are involved in the packaged corn that also goes into the Midwest.

The melon crop looks to be on schedule to start on April 29 or 30, which is three to five days ahead of where we typically start. We currently are receiving watermelons out of Mexico and cantaloupes from Mexico will start at the end of this week. Here in the Imperial Valley, we have all of the melons, cantaloupes, watermelons, honeydew and all of the variety melons. We have everything that the consumer will enjoy.

We are currently picking grapefruit. We have completed all of the lemons and mandarins and those trees have good sets for the next crop. We can see starting the lemons at the end of August or first of September, and then all of the mandarin types will start in November.

Labor right now is good. We don’t have an issue. Right now we have all local labor, either the day-pass workers coming out of Mexico or the local people.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified farmer

We are getting a lot of the winter forage crops off right now. They are a mixture of oats, wheat and barley, so chopping is in full swing. The almonds in this area have all leafed out and they are looking very good. It is too early to tell what the crop will be.

The water situation looks much better than last year. We aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but we are looking a lot better. We are looking forward to a good growing season. Commodity prices are down for a lot of the feed crops, and almonds as well. So there is a lot of concern about ground prices and rents and those type of expenses.

We are still a few months away from planting pumpkins. We are still thinking of ideas and corn maze ideas. We plant more than 50 varieties of pumpkins. The pumpkins and corn maze have done very well. We have a great location. We actually got about 11,000 people at the corn maze last year.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Out in the vineyard, things are early again this year. It is about the same as last year, which was a very early year. The crews are just finishing pruning, which is a little bit late because of the tight labor supply. The problem with being late is that now we have to catch up with everything else once these vines start growing—tying, suckering and all those things. But the labor supply is really tight.

We did get some significant amounts of rain in early March—five to six inches in the Lodi area, which is really good. That helps our groundwater situation.

It has been warm and then cool, so we haven't had any problems with powdery mildew. We started spraying last week to protect the vines from mildew. We will continue to do that to protect the vines. We haven't had any problems with insects and pests.

We could have an earlier harvest since we had an early spring. We did last year, but you don't really know what the summer will bring. If we get a cool summer, maybe not.

The majority of our vines are machine harvested. We only hand pick our old vine zinfandel and last year we actually did take out some of those vines because of the low production and the labor situation, which makes it harder and harder to keep them in the ground because of the economics. A lot of these old vines are going to be disappearing because of mechanization that needs to be on the forefront.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

In the southern end of the valley, we have had very little rain this month and this winter.

Our region was expecting more rain, but most of the rain fell in the northern part of the state with very little coming down south. While we were hoping for more rain, at least some of the reservoirs that hold our district water are starting to reach normal levels.

With little rain this winter, we have had to start irrigating our almond orchards already. We are also fertilizing right now and since we started irrigating, we are able to add the fertilizer through our drip system.

Back in February, we had good pollination weather and now the almonds are starting to grow in size. The trees are full, green and we are starting to keep an eye out for rust and any potential naval orangeworm issues that could pop up.

The crop is growing rapidly and just another sign that harvest will be here before you know it.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified farmer

After a dry February, the moisture at the beginning of March was a welcome sight in our area, especially for those growing dryland wheat this winter. With the wind and sunshine we have had recently, the fields have dried out again and things are getting busy.

Most people have been irrigating their permanent crops for the past few weeks now and getting their springtime fertilizer applied. The weeds have taken off growing as well, so weed sprayers and flail mowers are a common sight.

The almond crop looks about average for most fields. We had a quick bloom with warm weather that allowed the bees good conditions to work in, but not a lot of time. The apricots look like they have a much better crop than at this point last year, and we assume this is due to better chilling hours this past winter.

Pruning in walnut orchards is finishing up and most walnut orchards are beginning to leaf out and wake back up. Tomato transplanting started in the area last week and most row crop farmers are beginning to do bed prep in their tomato, bean and melon fields.

It looks to be another tight year for water in this area. Most districts are anticipating a meager water allocation from the CVP, which will mean fallowed fields and an increased dependence on groundwater.