From the Fields® - January 25, 2017

By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

With the arrival of much-needed rain, everyone seems to be sighing a breath of relief. Although we haven't gotten the rain they've gotten in Northern California, and by no means do we believe the drought is officially over, we're thankful for what we've received.

Our French Camp vineyards in the newly formed Paso Robles Highlands District of the Paso Robles AVA has had a great start to 2017, with 6 inches of rain to date. I'm sure the rest of the state is just as excited as we are with this season's totals so far.

Getting into the field has been our biggest challenge, as currently several operations are taking place. Pruning crews have begun pruning the earliest varietals, such as chardonnay. Tractor work has started as well as planting cover crops. However, much of the additional work we planned on doing, such as grafting, has been put off due to the saturated ground, a trade-off we have been more than happy to make.

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County diversified grower

It has been a great January for weather for our stone fruits. My brothers and I are joking that this must be what a normal winter looks like. We have had good rain in San Joaquin County from December to now.

The only downside is the chill hours; portions have not been able to accumulate as quickly as they have in the past. We were up to 40-48 chill portions in the Stockton to Linden area as of last week. Compared to last year, we are at a 10 portion difference. What does this mean? Well, with less chill the trees are not quite ready to begin pushing a bloom. Almonds, for example, may be slightly later this year. Time will tell.

In the cherry realm, chill portions are crucial in considering our Dormex and CAN 17 applications in order to begin pushing bud break earlier. We are hoping to be closer to the above-50 portions within this week to begin these appliacitons, although this is very dependent on weather well.

With all the great moisture and rain we are having, it will be difficult to get into the field. With that being said, we are behind on our cherry pruning, but we still have plenty of time to get caught up. Our walnut pruning also is behind, since our pruning towers and ladders cannot get into the field without sinking and or creating a mess in the field.

We are hoping that a good 7-10 day break of sunshine and cool weather can get us back at it. With that break as well, we will be able to finish mummy shaking almonds for our customers in the south county, since this last month has been so wet we have not been able to finish.

In a short form, the chill portions need to be timely for cherry fruit set and finishing mummy shaking almonds prior to bloom and getting everything pruned—timing is of the essence here.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County orchardist

I am on the west side of Stanislaus County. We have been getting quite a bit of rain the past few weeks. If we get a dry spell for a few days, there are some guys out doing herbicide sprays, putting down their pre-emergents in the orchards and doing some dormant sprays in some of the almonds.

There is a little bit of pruning going on in the walnuts. Most of the fruit trees and almonds have already been pruned around us. With this last storm that we got, it is pretty wet in the orchards. So there is not much activity going on outside the shop because the ground is so saturated.

There is a little bit of winter wheat being grown for hay and forage in the area, but not as much as in past years because of the low prices. But with the rainfall we've gotten, those grain crops look good.

By Craig Pedersen, Kings County diversified grower

I think everybody's obviously excited with the weather. Until just recently, the snowpack's been up pretty high and there's been a lot of runoff. This last storm is bringing in a lot of snow, which is going to get that water into our reservoirs. I think not only from the standpoint of the Sierra, but the optimism in Kings County from Westlands' standpoint and what's happening with water being moved into San Luis Reservoir, on the whole, everybody's pretty excited about actually having some water to be able to shut the wells off and let the groundwater start to recover.

I had trees up until about three years ago, and I sold those, so it's mainly row crops. I think, clearly, with the dairy industry still not completely healthy, a number of the commodities are off. I think probably the bright spot will be for folks in the Central Valley that have open ground, they can actually farm this year. I think pima cotton is going to be a pretty big crop this year for the Central Valley. With the prices where they're at, it's profitable, and I think there's some optimism there for pima, and probably some acala as well, some of the higher-producing varieties.

Our water comes out of Pine Flat Reservoir and Kings River. By the end of the year, the reservoir was down to the low margin. Two weeks ago, I think Pine Flat was at about 300,000 acre-feet. In these last few storms, it's getting close to another 300,000, so it's going to be close to 600,000 acre-feet.

The other reservoir in the area is Millerton (Friant Dam). It's been flood-releasing for three weeks now into the San Joaquin River. But it's only a 560,000 acre-foot reservoir. Pine Flat's a million, and we're edging up to 600,000, which will start to get us into some possible flood-release criteria, but we're hoping that we can kind of spread it out and not have the flood release. But the great thing about this: The Kings River is flowing below the dam, and that's bringing water down the river. In some areas of the southern portion of the Kings River, it hasn't seen water in four years. Starting to feed that water back into the underground aquifers is really important to everyone.

Along with all of that, there may be some new policy in Washington, D.C. We're all excited about the possibilities there. We hope President Trump is successful in maybe addressing some longer-term key issues with the Endangered Species Act, and how water moves through California, and some air-quality issues as well, and even the estate tax. I heard some discussions about maybe killing the death tax. So I think there's a lot of things on the horizon that are finally positive.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

Generous rainfall the past few months has given us opportunities and challenges we haven't had in years. Early fall rains settled September's dust clouds and smoothed the cloddy fields. The early sprout let us cultivate all our fields preplant and get a good weed kill.

Right now, that generous rainfall has been a bit much, and I probably have 10 percent of my farmland submerged in puddles. That's not really a big deal, since most of it isn't planned to be planted for another four to six weeks. Minor flooding gives an invaluable, real-life look at your drainage problems, and it sure leaches out the salts built up during the drought years.

These are not fun times as a hay or grain grower. Markets for both are off considerably from the 2013-14 boom years. Even the organic hay, once a hot market, is suffering. We're living off the cash saved during the good times. I wish the dairy and beef producers would start making some money so I could ask more for my hay.

I haven't had a lot of work to offer my employees. There's work in the shop, but that can be cold and damp, and any project outside is likely rained out the next day or two. I've been mostly working in the office, filling out annual reports, government compliance forms and going stir crazy. Some days that cold, damp shop looks pretty good.