From the Fields® - October 26, 2016

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

We're still plugging away with harvest. We started back up (Oct. 18) after the rains over the weekend. We're probably a good seven to eight days from being done with harvest. A lot of the farm has been harvested, and the fall straw decomposition work is completed and fields are flooded up. A lot of birds are here. We're ready for duck season starting this Saturday. We have a good portion of our farm we hunt ducks on as well.

We also operate a drying and storage facility, and it looks like we're about 70 to 80 percent complete on deliveries. We'll be, probably in the next 10 to 15 days, wrapped up with receiving rice as well.

Rice harvest went well. The yields all seemed to be right around average, or maybe a little above average on some certain fields, but overall, good yields and quality so far. We have a little bit of weather maybe coming our way first of (this) week, and we will just deal with that as it comes.

A lot of what happens in 2017 is what happens over the winter for us, waterwise. If we have a good strong winter where we get average or above-average rainfall and snowpack, we anticipate we should be able to farm all of our acres, as we did this year. It is a bit early, but hopefully, we have a good winter and we need it. Based on all the contracts for the different water districts, we had 100 percent delivery, so we were able to plant 100 percent of our acres this year, versus last year, where 40 percent of our acres were fallow.

It's one of my favorite times of the year, the fall and the harvest, and seeing all the birds coming into the valley here, waterfowl and shorebirds visiting these fields, and start of duck season.

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County almond/pistachio/olive grower

Almond harvest is pretty much completed. I think the majority of the growers are done, except for some of the later varieties. What I expected was a little above average, at least what you would consider Fresno County average. We're watering back after harvest, putting our fall fertilizer program together, doing some weed control. Pruning crews are running.

As far as the pistachio part of it, this is our first year. We did about average for a first-year harvest. Up and down the valley, pistachio yields have been above average. Real decent quality. A lot of pistachios are going in because they can tolerate some of the poor quality ground and certainly the poor quality groundwater, especially in western Fresno County.

Olives are looking good. We're going to start harvesting this week. It's too soon to tell what kind of crop we're going to have. It's a high-density planting, so it's all on trellises. They look good. We'll know in the next two-three weeks. Generally, we like to go around the first week of November. We're going to do a test on the berries this week to see what the oil content is and plan our harvest strategy around that.

The growers that are my neighbors are all looking to next year and kind of expecting the worst with our water allocation. It's the regulations that are in place that restrict the water from moving from north to south through the delta. The Endangered Species Act, specifically certain biological opinions that have been upheld by the court, effectively shut down the pumping facilities both on the state and the federal side. It's a very frustrating situation.

Legislators both on the state and the federal sides are unable to put together a comprehensive water policy that would take all users' considerations, that would be a more equitable distribution of what water is available.

We've taken some pretty aggressive steps to secure some water, short term and what we think will be long term, unless other regulations put a stop to what we have been able to put together. Probably the majority of growers in my water district (the federal San Luis Water District) are getting by.

There are a lot of orchards coming out right now, and not a lot of stuff being replanted, just because the water availability just is not there. And there's a lot of ground going up for sale right now, because I think growers are to the point where, if they're going to go down with a sinking ship, it's better to get what they can now and get out.

Everything that I've seen from the National Weather Service is that we're looking at another dry year. 2015-2016 was an average year, and we ended up with a 5 percent allocation. That's 5 percent of 2.4 acre-feet. That's what, 1 inch per acre? Even with the best irrigation practices, which would be drip and microsprinklers, you cannot farm—you can't even sustain an orchard on a 5 percent allocation. So growers are forced to pump groundwater, if they have that ability, or buy very expensive water wherever they can find it.

Lots of doom and gloom around here. It's a full-time job just to manage water and regulations. There are people that have been out here for 60 years, and they're done. They're just done. Sell your ground and move to Idaho.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified grower

This is our busiest time of the year with our pumpkin patch and corn maze. This year, the maze is a spider web with a spider in the corner. We get a lot of visitors to both the pumpkin patch and maze. There are a couple thousand school kids who come to the pumpkin patch on school trips and we introduce them to agriculture as part of the process.

We have more than 50 varieties of pumpkins, all sizes from the smallest gourds to the largest carving pumpkins. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Every year, when the seed catalogs come out in January and February, we go through them like kids with a Christmas catalog. We are constantly looking for something new. These pumpkin seeds come from all corners of the globe. It makes it very interesting to find these new varieties.

We sell a lot of pumpkins to visitors to our pumpkin patch and even more through a broker, so they end up in retail stores. Prices are stable and demand is good. My daughter designs the maze, and my wife and oldest son help me run the pumpkin patch. We do everything ourselves as far as the development of the maze. We harvest the maze on Nov. 1, and then start setting up for the ice rink and Christmas trees.

This has been a good year for us. The weather has been ideal. We got a couple showers, but nothing significant. Our water supply was adequate as well, so I have no complaints about that.

By Chris Bierwagen, Nevada County diversified grower

We had a good peach crop this year, but due to too much winter warming, we didn't have a very good apple crop, so we're struggling to have enough apples this fall. Climate change is messing with the winter weather, and the apples need a lot of cold weather. We didn't have it this past winter.

The rest of our business has been going along well. We had a good crop of boysenberries and raspberries this summer, and we're now into pumpkins for October and a few late apples coming on.

Pumpkins are doing well. We had a good season on them, with not much pressure from mildew, which is always a battle. We had a beautiful rain (the weekend of Oct. 15-16). We had 6 ½ inches of rain here, so we're sitting pretty for the fall. The only apples we have left on the tree are winter varieties that don't harvest until November. They just hang on. They can stand a lot of rain; it doesn't hurt them at this point. Everything else is done. We're happy to have some rain for cover crops that we've planted to vegetable fields and pumpkin fields that are fallow that are going to have cover crop on for this winter.

We can have up to 80 inches of rain in a really wet winter. We haven't had near that the past two winters. We've had enough water here that we haven't had any cutbacks in water. The Nevada Irrigation District is looking good going into the winter. We got more rain up here than some of the southern Sierras did, and a good snowpack, so we had normal deliveries. They're looking good as far as storage for the coming year. They try to bank enough water for another whole season if they can.