From the Fields® - July 6, 2016

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

We finished planting our last fields of rice the last week in May. This year, we were able to plant all of our acres to rice—unlike the past two years, where we were unable to plant 40 percent of our land due to the drought.

It is great to see everything green again, along with all the wildlife that is flourishing in the different rice fields.

Since planting, we have been scouting the fields and monitoring the stages of growth to make sure our timing for herbicides, insecticides and fertilizer are done at the right time for the crop. So far, all the fields are looking great. We have had some cool days, but over the past week, the temperature has increased, which has really been pushing the rice out of the water.

We are winding down our ground applications of herbicides and getting the water set on the fields as they begin the process of heading out. Also, we are monitoring the color of the plants to make sure the nitrogen levels are sufficient. We have been top-dressing fields with fertilizer based on our observations.

As the plants start to mature, we will get a good handle on harvest timing, but we expect to start harvest about the 10th of September for the fields that were planted to short-grain varieties.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower

Labor is extremely tight right now. That's our biggest challenge. There's such a demand for pickers that it's hard to get full crews.

Workers will go to labor contractors and be gone at the drop of a hat. We don't know how many workers to count on. The workers often jump crops, like to berries. And some of the workers we usually see have gone back home.

We've completed our first big lemon pick. The second pick is harder because there's less fruit per tree.

The other interesting thing with lemons is that the prices are strong right now, comparable to last year.

Avocado prices also have increased tremendously—up 30 cents from one month to the next. Mexican exporters were sending tremendous amounts of fruit to U.S. markets, then backed off the volume. That supply gap was unexpected.

Right now, we're picking hard just to get all the fruit off. The recent 100-degree temperatures put fruit on the ground. Avocados don't like it when temps go above the 80s.

Water is always an issue. There's a lot of discussion going on in the western part of the county about dropping groundwater tables because there has been virtually no water coming down the Santa Clara River, so there have been no diversions for agriculture. But availability is always about where wells are located.

In the northern part of the county, we aren't as severely affected because we have water that comes in from the treatment plant, which holds our water table a little higher, although the treated water adds more salts.

Now there's a lot of discussion about how much groundwater should be removed, and that becomes contentious.

The other difficulty is the water that should have been going into storage in Diamond Valley Reservoir wasn't moved south. Instead, it was sent out of the delta to the ocean. All of our reservoirs are terribly low. It makes no sense.

By Pete Belluomini, Kern County diversified grower

We’re winding up our summer potato harvest in Kern County, finishing a little earlier than in years past, in part because we’ve had to reduce acreage. Like most of the potato growers in our area, we cut out our russet crop.

Thankfully, water supplies haven’t been as painful as in the past couple of years. I can’t complain about that.

But the markets are another story. The Northwest growers have pretty much overrun our russet market and there aren’t the prices we need to grow them. That’s for the conventional crop. We’ve still got organic russets and the prices are still viable.

Overall, however, Kern potato acreage is down. It looks like it’s going to be a hot summer and that’s tough on the crops, so farmers have been harvesting early.

I’ve got my niche crops going in the surrounding mountains, so they’ll be ready in the fall, in time for Thanksgiving.

I’ve got white potatoes for the fresh market, perfect for clam chowders and mashed potatoes. We’ve also got some reds and fingerlings in the ground. I’m happy about that so far.

We don’t have much competition in the fall because growing conditions in the Northwest and Northeast are getting cold and wet. Russets store, but we’re growing for the fresh market.

I’m telling consumers we’ve got potatoes now for salad, and I’m getting ready for the days when people pull the sweaters out of the closet.

Labor is a problem constantly on my mind. While we have a pretty good supply of workers, the hourly rate keeps going up. Our legislators raise the rate and our costs go up, and we can’t do anything about it. It’s discouraging.

Fortunately, much of the potato crop is harvested by machines, but that’s not true for the other crops we grow on the farm.

By Kulwant Johl, Yuba-Sutter County peach, prune and walnut grower

Peach harvest is just starting. The peaches look good. Some of them were hurt with hail, but mostly they look pretty good—yield and quality. We're just getting ready for harvest, making sure the peaches are irrigated.

Prunes, we had no crop. Fruit just didn't set this year. I thought we had perfect weather, but they still didn't set. I harvested, but the crop was very light. I have insurance. Our county had a disaster declaration for the hail damage, but that doesn't really do anything unless Congress approves a disaster program. We qualified for loans, but I have insurance for the prunes and I also have it for the peaches, of which I have a good crop.

The walnuts look good. The walnut crop is very heavy. We're spraying for the codling moth and just monitoring for insects and diseases. Disease pressure has been low this year because we had good weather; we didn't get the late rains. So is the insect pressure. So far, it's not very high.

The high heat does hurt some, because when you have 100-degree weather, the peaches don't grow in size. With walnuts, they sort of burn up with heat. In walnut groves, they're spraying sun guard on the outside rows so they don't get burned. With peaches, you just make sure you keep irrigating, because when it's hot, they use more water.

Peach prices are good, but walnut prices are down. It hurts our bottom line, but we have to live with it.

By Bob Steinacher, Tehama County diversified grower

We are shifting into high gear to get ready for our second crop of fresh figs. We are about three weeks ahead of our "old" normal start time, but after the last two years, this might be the new norm.

With all the heat we've had the last few weeks, we are hardly turning the pumps off. Even with last winter's El Niño, our water table still went down 3 feet from last spring to this year.

We have a very large crop of figs, so I'm hoping we have better luck bringing in workers. For the last five years, the numbers and quality of the workers has declined. I'm worried that if the immigration policy doesn't change, we will have to look at drying more of our crop or look at something mechanically harvested.

The olive crop around here looks pretty good, and our walnuts are breaking limbs. The prunes in our area are so light that a lot of orchards won't be harvested. I hope that Mother Nature will bless all of us with good harvesting weather and an even wetter winter after all our crops are in.