From the Fields® - October 12, 2016

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County turkey and walnut farmer

We're in what we call the fresh season for poultry now, and the industry is busy feeding birds in the field and looking for a fairly good season. Thanksgiving is a big part of the market, but it's all at one time and we have the rest of the year that has the majority of the cut-up birds.

The industry is still struggling to get numbers back after the huge AI (avian influenza) outbreak last year across the United States. Numbers are down. The poultry sector is trying to get enough eggs and poults and so, to grow birds out in the field has been a challenge.

On the good side, wheat and grain prices for the animal sector are relatively affordable. It is not so good for the grain producer because of the slide in the market, but there's lots of meat on the market as we've seen the other meat industries go to having oversupply and thus pushing down prices.

On the walnut side, we're looking for a nice, cold winter to make these trees go dormant, and to get the rest of our trees grafted for next year. We hope for rain.

We also have a club lamb business, so lambing will start here in the next three weeks, all the way through mid-spring.

By James Durst, Yolo County diversified farmer

Now that it's October, we have finished harvesting all melons. This leaves winter squash and cherry tomatoes still in production.

We have been doing soil tests on all fields and ordering fall amendments, mostly gypsum and compost. We have begun applying these amendments to prepped fields.

We are doing fall groundwork for 2017 crops and making two sets of cropping plans—one with surface water deliveries and one without depending on winter rains. I think this may be the new norm for us in California.

This has been a good season for us, with record yields and fair prices on most crops. We constantly are seeing pricing pressure from Mexico in the organic marketplace, where wages and benefits are substantially less than California. This also may be a new normal for us. But we are very grateful for all we have and the abundance that seems to flow from nature when treated with respect and good stewardship.

Pests have been light this season. We have expanded our pest management program over the years, relying more on crop diversity, release of predators, monitoring and trapping, and proactive application of pest control products that work more to create an antagonistic environment rather than actually killing the pest. Insects, like people, will always migrate to a better neighborhood.

Being in the fresh-market business, we hire many employees during the spring and summer months. We have looked on with dismay as the California Legislature and governor passed and signed into law overtime bills. It appears there is a disconnect between reality and good intentions in California government.

I am a firm believer in paying good wages to agricultural workers and we have strived through the years to be on the highest end of the pay scale.

But now, we will have to reinvent our wage scale in light of overtime rules.

Unfortunately, produce does not ripen on a five-day, eight-hour workweek.

If more people in government actually took the time to visit and understand the implications of the laws they pass, they would better represent the constituents of this state.

By Scott Hudson, San Bernardino County apple farmer

Our apple business is booming. We're getting a lot of people to visit us early. Ninety-nine percent of our apples we sell right to the customer and we also have a few local restaurants that buy from us.

The apple crop was, for us, a little bit harder to grow because we didn't have a winter. Our February average temperature—we're at almost 5,000 feet—was 63 degrees. We should have been a lot colder. The apples needed those chill hours. They just didn't get them. We still had some apples, but many were a lot smaller, color was off and some varieties we didn't get at all, such as our Romes. We have fewer employees, too. It's hard to get people to pick apples these days.

We've got 6,000 apple trees. As soon as they go dormant, we'll start pruning and getting the orchards up to snuff.

Our cider making is doing really good. We're just really hopping there. Our problem, which is a good problem to have, is we sell out just about as fast as we make it. We're working in an apple orchard and buildings that were built in 1898, long before they had forklifts and apple bins and all that, so we're tight for space.

We're going to plant some vineyards. We have 30 acres set aside to do that. At 5,000 feet, we want to make sure we get the right type of grapes. On down the road, we're going to have to build another building for the wine operation. We don't have the space to have huge tanks.

We're producing a lot of wine and everything sells out. It would be nice if we could produce more, but the fact that it's selling out, I guess that's a good problem.

By Chris Lange, Diversified farmer in Tulare and Fresno counties

Last week we finished our olive harvest, and we had a very good crop this year—about 4 tons to the acre and good sizes. So it's nice that we're finished with it, and it looks like the results are going to be very positive. Over the years, olives have been a struggle because of labor. We did not have a labor-harvesting issue this year. Labor was available, and I think at a reasonable price.

We are finishing up our valencia oranges; we should be finished by the end of this month. The prices inch up a little bit each week. I think we're going to do fine. We had pretty good production, and the size structure seems to fit into demand.

We have a cow-calf operation, and because of the drought and the lack of feed, we reduced our herd by about 75 percent. We plan to build back up to our previous levels. We do calving in the fall. We're about halfway through calving. Cows and calves look great, so that's another positive.

We grow Thompson seedless grapes that we dry on the vine for raisins. That harvest has begun. We have two vineyards. One looks like we're going to exceed expectations, and the other vineyard, it's going to be low. We'll just have to see when we're finished how we end up. We will be finished within another week or two.

I anticipate that we will begin harvesting lemons, limes and early mandarins at the very end of this month. Those crops, based on our estimates, look to be about 10 percent less than they were this past year, but until you really get in and harvest, you really don't know.

Navel oranges will begin in November, and overall, that crop looks excellent. Size structure looks to be very good for this time of the year, but once again our estimates came in a little bit short of what we had last year—maybe another 10 percent short. The fruit grows over the whole growing season, and we won't finish navel oranges until May, so if the fruit should grow into size, then we will have made up for early estimates where we've reduced the numbers.

With the cost of farming ever increasing, starting two years ago we began removing old orchards where either the trees were old and not producing up to today's standards, or the varieties that were growing there are no longer in demand. We have redeveloped a lot of our acreage, and this year we planted about 24,000 citrus trees to replace those that we had pushed out. I believe next year we're looking to do another 12,000 trees.