From the Fields® - February 8, 2017

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

Like the entire state of California, down here on the lower desert we have been getting a lot of precipitation. Probably our average is in the 2 ½-inch range, and since just before Christmas we have had four storms that rolled through. One of them produced a little over an inch and another one 3/4-inch, and the other two were lighter.

It has created a little bit of planting gaps for us with the melons and the corn. It isn't too bad, but it could possibly show up at harvest time. As far as the vegetables that are being harvested right now, the market has been poor for a long, extended period. But we think we are finally starting to see improvement. Broccoli and cauliflower have had good runs since December. But finally, the leaf items are showing life and there is a lot more encouragement. We are optimistic that the lower desert is going to finish off with a better second half than we saw during the first half of the deal.

The melon acreage probably is down slightly; the sweet corn acreage is similar to last year, if not up a little bit.

We had a very nice and average lemon crop here in District 3, and then the mandarin crop was very hit and miss. There were some ranches that produced fine and other ranches that were below average. Grapefruit seems to be an average crop, if not slightly above.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

Right now, we are in a mad rush to get as much work done as possible between storms. The ground finally dried enough that we could get out and do some mummy shaking in the almonds and pruning in the prunes. We were also doing our second half of our pre-emergent sprays in the almonds before the rain hit.

The labor situation is short this year. My labor contractor has a crew that is about a third smaller than in past years, so it is taking longer to cover the acreage that I need to get done. But I am hoping they will be done before the prunes start blooming in about a month. The buds are starting to swell in the almonds. We are estimating that the bloom will be a little bit later than last year. Beekeepers are moving the hives out into the orchards, getting the bees ready for almond pollination.

So now we are kind of just waiting for everything to break loose.

Right now, the storms are good, but once we start blooming, we don't want to see the rain because we will be dealing with more disease issues and the bees not able to work as effectively when it is raining. If we are going to have the storms, this is a good time to have them.

Everybody is in the same boat here, trying to get as much work done as possible between the storms. If these rains materialize when the first bloom sprays are needed, there might be muddy conditions where we might need to think about applications by air rather than ground applications. It is too early to say yet, but that is one concern because of the added costs.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

It has been a real blessing with all of the precipitation that we have been getting. For the most part, the levees have been holding well. There are a few isolated circumstances where that isn't the norm, but it is nice to see some standing water in fields, because we know that eventually that will reach the aquifer.

Along with that, we have had a lot of rain days and days when we couldn't get our pruning crews out, and that is our main activity right now. So, we are just monitoring where we are at and whether we are ahead or behind a normal schedule.

We just finished sending out our W2 forms and this year we had more than double our normal amount of W2 forms because of a regulation that required growers to back-pay workers who were paid piece rate from 2012 forward. So, that created more than double the amount of work administratively for the month of January.

We have a higher minimum wage, our costs are going up and we are actively pursuing mechanizing on as many of our operations as we can, simply because California government is sending us clear messages that they don't want labor in California any more. With mechanization, we can do harvesting and leaf pulling and there is a lot of work being done on trunk suckering right now. But the biggest area that I would like to see is in pruning, which is one of our biggest labor costs. There are a lot of us, myself included, who are installing trellises that can be mechanically pruned. This will probably reduce our labor by 85 percent.

By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay farmer

We've had a winter like I can't remember for a long, long time. We had around two feet of snow right around the start of the year, and then some extreme cold temperatures for our area (Scott Valley). The snow set up and froze up on the fields and has pretty much been there for a month, and it's just starting to kind of leave now.

So it's been primarily a month of work inside the shop, inside the office, complying with all the various due dates for regulations and dealing with farming in the state of California, and not a lot of work being done outside this year so far.

Normally, we plant some of our cereal grain crops on rotation and such around the middle to the last part of February. As wet as things are this year—we have a week of rain forecast right now—even if it quit after this next storm, with as much standing water as we have right now and as wet as things are, I am guessing we will not be able to get a tractor into the field to do any type of tillage or prep work at all in the month of February. Kind of curious, on our equipment with the flotation tires for fertilizer and herbicide applications, if we'll even be able to get started with those on time or not. On a normal year, we would already have started today.

We're hay farmers, and we use grain only as rotation. Our primary crops are alfalfa and orchard grass. In order for the hay farmer to be successful, we need the dairyman and the cattle producer to be successful. That's a key point that I'd like to really emphasize, that we're very much dependent on each other. So it would be nice if we could see dairy financially strengthen a little bit, and beef cattle as well. And then, after that, things that we have to do to be successful would be the proper care, the proper fertilization, the proper pest control and proper irrigation to get us to first crop, which we usually start harvesting around the end of May.

Our valley is primarily a groundwater basin. There are some surface-water diversions, more for a stock water or pasture system and not for hay ground. Our region is not in overdraft. We refill and recharge our groundwater every year. Even in what we would consider to be a dry year, we still do a fairly good job of recharging.

By Russel Efird, Fresno County diversified grower

Best thing we can say is, thank the dear Lord for the fact that we have had rain and the future is looking like additional rain. Part of our farming operation is located in Consolidated Irrigation District, which is located south of Fresno. The district started floodwater releases around the 15th of January. Unfortunately, it took around 10 days of turning the system on and off to get concrete lines that haven't been used for five or six years repaired, but the water started flowing consistently about a week ago. We are putting floodwater on ground that is already at field capacity from the rains. With this additional water, we are trying to do our part to help recharge the underground aquifer. The irrigation district anticipates that the floodwater releases will continue until the end of March, and if we have normal rains it might go until the first of May.

With our sandy loam ground, we have been able to do field work, but on the heavier ground, we are having to wait to do that field work. We were fortunate to be able to get all of our winter sanitation done in the orchards prior to the heavy rains.