From the Fields® - May 4, 2016

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop farmer

Almonds are my primary crop. We have some pistachios, but there's not a lot going on there. We have some olives for olive oil. The olives are going into bloom right now. We're organic olives, so we can't use any conventional fertilizers and herbicides.

On the almonds, we're doing our May spray for mite control and navel orangeworm. We're irrigating as well. We're prepping the floors in the orchards, getting them smoothed out. We're doing weed control.

Water is probably the biggest nightmare that we're all facing right now on the Westside. A lot of information is coming out from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation about trying to fill San Luis Reservoir. A lot of growers have purchased very expensive water that they may end up losing if the bureau fills the reservoir. In other words, there will be no carryover water left in the system.

We have a lot of carryover water. I'm going to use as much as I possibly can so that when I start out next year, I essentially will have a zero balance on my account. A lot of growers are planning to do the same thing. But that sets you up asking, what's our allocation going to be for 2017? It's completely up in the air.

We require 3-1/2 to 4 acre-feet of water to get through an entire year of mature almonds. We're not going to have 100 percent allocation, so I'll still have to find a considerable amount of water. If I'm able to carry over more water, then the amount of water I have to find will be a lot less. The average price of that carryover water is about $850 an acre-foot. In my district alone, growers stand to lose 35,000 acre-feet for a loss of $29 million worth of water. It's already been bought and paid for; it's stored in the reservoir to be used this year. If the reservoir fills, that 35,000 acre-feet is wiped off the books.

We don't have groundwater to fire up pumps on, at least my ranch doesn't. Now that almond prices have dropped, to go out and buy $850 water with nut prices being so low, it doesn't work.

By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County dairy farmer and winegrape grower

On the dairy, we're going through quite a change because we're going from conventional to organic, so we're in the transition phase. We're nine months into it; it takes a year for the cows and three years to transition the land. At this point, all my heifers coming in are organic. I have two tanks that keep the milk separated, with two strings of cows. By August, we'll be fully organic. On my land, we were able to go back and get it certified; it's been organic. We've never used any commercial fertilizers or sprays. We'd always used our dairy manure for fertilization. We were lucky in that way.

I grew up in a conventional dairy business and we've always been conventional, but now it's gotten to the point where the milk prices are so low that we just can't survive, so going organic is a tool that we could use over here in the coastal region, because we do have pasture. So it just became prudent we move into it. Over here in Sonoma and Marin counties, there's only a handful left that are not organic. It's basically the same in the Humboldt-Ferndale area; that's the other area that's almost all organic also.

I'm shipping to one of our local creameries. I've been with it now for four or five years. It made it easy that way because it buys both organic and conventional milk.

The price of organic milk is set by the creamery and it's well above the state minimum price. It's set by contract. It's a competitive price for organic because all the creameries in this area are paying within 50 cents or so a hundredweight of the same price.

The organic rule is set at 120 days of pasture a year, and last year with the drought, the rule was eased up a little bit because we didn't get any rain. I haven't been in it long enough to experience that, but that is a concern if we get drought years. This year, we have lots of good grass because we've had rain. The feed is doing real well out in the fields.

The grapes are growing really well. I think we're a little bit ahead of normal schedule. We didn't have any frost at all this year. We didn't have the wind machines for frost protection. We've had some really nice, warm days, so the vines are growing really rapidly. We're really busy suckering and moving the catch wires up, because the vines are growing so fast. We've had to spray a couple of times already for botrytis and powdery mildew—just the normal management practices.

The demand for the grapes is good. I think most everybody has got contracts for their grapes. We got huge crops in 2013 and 2014, but last year the crop up here in the Sonoma and Napa area was off 25-30 percent. We haven't gotten to bloom yet, but it looks like it'll be a good, average crop.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and cherry grower

Here in San Joaquin County, cherry harvest is underway. Unfortunately, it is the fourth year in a row with a very light crop of cherries. There are many theories, such as one winter being extremely cold and dry, inadequate chilling hours the next year, too hot during pollination, and this year rain during bloom. So take your pick on theories.

As far as the vineyards go, we are falling in the same pattern as last year with early bud break, which will probably lead to an early harvest.

Most of the tying of vines and suckering has been completed or is nearly completed. Shoot thinning on certain varietals has started and will be completed in the next couple of weeks.

With cherries and grapes being labor-intensive, we are concerned about the proposed overtime legislation and how it could affect us in the future.

Prevention of mildew is the main concern as far as diseases. Crop production products are applied on a seven-to-10-day interval.

As far as rainfall goes, we are about normal. But unfortunately, in the northeastern portion of San Joaquin County, for the fifth consecutive year, we will not be receiving surface water.

By David Richter, Sutter County diversified grower

We were a little bit late getting started on planting our crops. We're about a week behind on everything. That was because of the wet beginning of March, which we desperately needed.

We're currently transplanting and cultivating tomatoes. We are about halfway done with our acreage on that. We missed the hail in our area. There was nothing in our immediate area. But as I always say, if you missed it this time, it'll come back around and get you later.

We do still plant some fields by seed on tomatoes; we still have one field of seed to plant. That goes last because the availability of some of the seed varieties is limited. They have new fusarium disease-resistant varieties and they're limited right now in quantities.

We are just buttoning up our planting on corn. This is grain corn, but it's for human consumption. It's white corn. I think we have one more field to plant, and it's because it's next to the bypass and the ground is still a little bit wet. Believe it or not, we still have a little bit of wet ground here and there along the bypass levees, just because you get a little bit of seepage and it tends to be heavier ground in there.

We will be finishing planting our sunflowers by the end of this week. We have what they call a second planting because of isolation problems, but that'll be down the road. We're just starting to flood the first rice fields and continuing ground work on the rice.

The wheat is coming along and it looks like we'll have a good crop. Ours is not irrigated. We felt it had enough moisture and it was going to make it on its own this year. It's next to the bypass and we were actually concerned that it might get too wet, but it didn't.

We haven't started planting our dry beans yet. We'll probably start pre-irrigating for our dry beans this week. Toward the middle of May, we'll start some specialty vine-seed crops, mainly watermelons, cucumbers and squash.

We have 100 percent water available this year. For us, being so diversified, water wasn't an issue last year either. Our water district had 75 percent supply and we fit within our allotment on the crops we raise, so we were fine.