From the Fields® - November 9, 2016

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

It's been a welcome change in weather the past three weeks. The last half of October brought 5 inches of rain and now a pattern of 70-degree days and 40-degree nights has really started to transition the farm to fall. I don't think I've seen it "green up" as fast as our pastures did this year. This is also the earliest we have ever started selectively harvesting our Meyer lemons, making our first deliveries last Tuesday. It's a heavy crop this year, so getting an early start on the lemon sales is a relief.

For olives, this will be an off year, but that was anticipated with a huge crop last year on the farm. Typically, I like to start the first harvest for olive oil the week before Thanksgiving, when half the olives are still green. We are at that point now, if not beyond. With a light crop, I'm happy to see early ripening, as we will be able to harvest our fully ripe olives earlier, minimizing loss to winter windstorms.

The end of October also marked the end of our farmers market season. We do participate in one year-round market in Chico on Saturdays. As we enter into the holiday months, our sales from the markets will be replaced with on-farm sales. The local mandarin season should be starting up in the next couple of weeks and as people travel to the foothills to buy their mandarins, we always benefit as a secondary stop for them. With harvest, sales and deliveries, the last two months of the year are always the busiest on the farm.

By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

We’re finishing up our pepper harvest—all of the bell peppers and jalapeños. I’ll be finished up here at the end of November. We had a good production run this fall with peppers, good quality.

We’re getting ready to start harvesting celery. The celery looks good. I don’t know what the market prices are right now, but I know they’ve been down for most of the year. Hopefully, they’ve picked up, but I’m not sure what the current price is. We’re continuing to plant celery over the next few months.

Winter strawberries are being planted here in the county. We should start harvesting that around Christmas and run through the whole spring and into June.

We’re planting some onion seed crop down here for seed production. It gets harvested in the summer. It’s something new for us. We haven’t done it for 30 years.

We’re planning on farming our 2,000 acres of various row crops into the next year. We’ll see what Mother Nature brings us with respect to rain. If it doesn’t rain, we’ll have to adjust accordingly and see what happens.

The weather has been too nice. We’ve had a little bit of drizzle, but we need significant rain this fall and winter to help put some water back in the aquifers. We’re all hoping and praying for it. We hope it isn’t a bust like last year, where everybody thought we were going to have a lot of rain from El Niño and we got very little. I think I’ve given up listening to the weatherman and all the scientists. I think sometimes you’re better off throwing the dice and seeing what comes up. It’s probably just as accurate.

We got less than a half an inch here in October. And the weather has just been beautiful and warm—postcard weather here. I don’t know when that’s going to change, but the weather has just been drop-dead gorgeous.

Labor is still in short supply. It’s very difficult to find or attract labor. That’s an ongoing issue, trying to attract people to work. We don’t know if that’s ever going to be resolved or not. We’re probably running 10 percent short on average. You just have to make up for it by planning your crops out: Don’t try to overplant where you know you can’t harvest it all when it comes off. Your plantings get spread out a little bit further. It’s something we have planned for the last few years, trying to cope with it.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

Planting new alfalfa fields has been in full swing since Oct. 1. We have had unusually high populations of leafhopper, aphid and fleabeetle. Establishing a new stand has been particularly difficult and challenging this fall. Alfalfa prices are almost 50 percent down from previous highs.

We are also planting garlic and onions currently. Last year's garlic yields were off by approximately 15 percent. Not sure why, but that seemed to be the case throughout the state.

Commodity prices overall are not doing very well, and this may be a year when "tighten up the belt" may be in order. Wheat contracts are down in price by 10 percent from historic levels. As the dog days of summer pass, fall provides a welcome relief but keeps us very busy planting various crops.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

We finished rice harvest on our farm about three weeks ago, just before the major rains started. Around the country, I think there is about 20 percent of the crop still to be harvested. So here we are in November, still harvesting rice. That's not unheard of, but it is infrequent that harvest drags on that long.

We had one of the wettest Octobers ever, so that really delayed the harvest. An interesting phenomenon this year was how slowly the crop dried down to a moisture level that is conducive to harvest. It just seemed to hold on for a long time, so we got a bit of a late start and harvest dragged on because we had to start and stop quite a bit waiting for the rice to dry down.

Yields were well above average and qualities have come back quite variable, overall good, but a few disappointing ones in the lots I received back. I planted the new variety M209 this year in one field and was amazed. The field I planted it in has problems and is my worst looking field, and yet it had one of the best yields. So I am definitely going to give that variety a try in one of my better fields next year.

The price outlook is not very good. There seems to be a lot of rice in the world, but commodities in general are down, so this is just one of those times that we have to ride out.

We are cleaning up our machines, getting them ready to store for the winter. We are also getting ready to plant some wheat, but that big amount of rain that we had in October has kept us out of the field and also put a damper on getting fields ready for sunflowers next year.

By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County diversified farmer

It has been a long time since we have had to farm around a wet October, and it hasn't been pretty. Those that were able to get work done early are further along in fall ground prep and planting, but many that were focused on finishing up harvests are finding themselves behind, with saturated conditions and nothing planted for fall.

We had a few fields of alfalfa that had been cut a week before the first rains in October that we couldn't get baled, but other than that our harvests were completed. Minimum tillage becomes the modified rule of the day in order to reduce compaction. Rarely does a farmer in this part of the valley wish for north wind, but …

My immediate neighborhood has suddenly had to face the real probability of one or two "legal" outdoor marijuana grows—land selling and very soon thereafter fenceposts driven, creating an acre or more contained within. There is very real concern about what this means to neighbors' security, quality of rural life and land values.

The amounts of cash that are involved in these operations are breathtaking, and confound traditional agricultural models. Why wouldn't a landowner take cash for more than he/she was offering their property for? What happens after the first year— assuming the grow is successful—do the growers do it again, or do they walk away?

Yolo County very recently passed a prohibition on outdoor marijuana grows, but the 100 or so that had their paperwork submitted before it was passed will likely be allowed to proceed. At a time when many traditional commodity prices are at or near historic lows, this issue makes a farmer question his sanity, and challenges his ethics.