From the Fields® - May 10, 2017

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop grower

I have roughly 3,000 acres of almonds, 155 acres of pistachios and 225 acres of high-density olives.

The olives right now are starting to bloom. The bloom looks really good. Pistachios had a pretty good bloom. Pollination might have been a little sketchy, but it's way too soon to tell what kind of a set we're going to get. In my area, we had some showers, nothing significant. More than anything, we've had a lot of wind. For the olives and pistachios, I don't think that affected them much.

My primary crop is almonds and they've gone through their drop, which is stuff the tree wasn't going to hang onto and has fallen off. The crop looks pretty good, at least in my area. We're putting on our nitrogen and we're keeping our profiles full of water, keeping the weeds under control. We're probably going to do a May spray for miticide and maybe a fungicide with a little foliar on the almonds, so that's coming up. Prices are a little soft, but that's to be expected.

We're keeping an eye on what the water situation is going to be like on the Westside. For federal water districts, we have 100 percent allocation. I think the biggest problem for a lot of growers now is: How do you plan for next year? They're going to allow very minimal amounts of what they call rescheduled water, which is water you carry from one year to the next, because the reservoir should maintain a pretty high level, so there won't be any space to carry over water. There's a lot of growers on the Westside right now that have carryover water from 2016 and even 2015 that is in the San Luis Reservoir, and if you don't use it, you're going to lose it, even though you paid for it.

We're not overwatering, but we're not holding back. It is carryover water that has been purchased over the last several years. The prices have been upwards of $800 to $1,200 an acre-foot. There are growers that have a million dollars' worth of water in San Luis Reservoir and they have a chance of losing a percentage of that. It's strange times. I've been doing this for 25 years. We've always survived, but nobody has ever seen a year like this before in these situations with all the regulations that the bureau and the water quality control boards are putting on us. It's a challenge.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

For our alfalfa, we are in our third cutting and it looks like we have gotten good yields to date and the protein values for dairy markets are doing well. We are off to a very slow start, but we are back on track now with good, clean alfalfa fields with good nutritional value. So the alfalfa is moving along well and we are anticipating getting into hot, dry conditions, so things will get more challenging. The price for alfalfa remains fairly stable. I was anticipating a considerable drop in price during our second cutting and the price was fairly firm, so I think it may be a fairly good year for alfalfa pricing.

Our cotton crop looks good. We are at about pinhead-square. I would say we are dealing with fairly heavy thrips pressure, not as bad as I have seen in some years, but we definitely have to treat for them. We have a pretty good stand and nice growing conditions since the first part of February.

We anticipate garlic and onion harvest beginning sometime in mid-June, and these two crops look pretty good. We were concerned about wet weather in December and January, that we would have a lot of rust and mildew, but it hasn't been as bad as I thought it was going to be.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

Sonoma County dairies have started chopping silage in the past week or so. A word from the wise: Get a good tow cable, you'll probably need it. Some of the crop is overripe, some is immature and in mud, but overall it's time to go, and you don't want to play catch-up all season long.

My early planted hay crop is much the same: not very exciting, but not a disaster either. Anywhere that had puddles for more than a few days, the crop is stunted and green, while a hundred feet away, the crop is full and ripening. We'll start cutting in the next week.

Our bread and butter, moneymaker crop is the late-planted hay. We always have good demand for this from feed stores and horse stables. This year, we planted in March and through much of April. That crop is way behind the early planted, but it is uniform and looks like it will be exceptional quality.

During the drought years, we had some very poor performance from our broadleaf herbicides. This year, with abundant rainfall, they performed very well; one less problem to worry about.

Cattlemen are looking at an abundance of pasture this spring and a recovering beef market. I hope they will grow their herds and make a little more demand for hay.

Vineyards in the area started budding out late this year. That's a big relief to me, as it gives me longer to use restricted herbicides. Those are the ones that work really well. Several vineyards have had problems with their early spraying due to soggy fields.

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

It was hot for several days, in the low 90s. I really don't need that kind of hot weather for my grain, but it is probably going to cool off. I have about 300 acres of oat and barley mix and I will probably start cutting next week. But I am waiting to see if it is going to rain first. The grain is still very green yet. I planted later than usual. It was late January or the first of February before I got all my seeds in the ground.

The market is about the same as last year. Probably about $200 a ton, and most of my grain goes to horses. I have a few cow guys, but most of it is nice horse hay.

There aren't as many horses as there used to be. When the price of feed got so outrageous a few years back, a lot of people got rid of their horses. Just like me, I had 40 or 50 cows five or six years ago and now I have six.

In 2012 through 2014, I had no crop because of the drought, but the last couple years have been better. The last couple years were fair years. I wouldn't call them good years. This year is maybe getting into the good range. It looks like I am going to have a crop between fair and good. It isn't that tall, but hay that is grown under dry conditions is very sweet and it feeds very well. It is quite different from irrigated hay. My customers tell me that after their animals have been eating dry-farmed hay, they want nothing to do with the irrigated hay.

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

It's been about three weeks since we've had any measurable rain on the farm and for this year that feels like eternity. It's been a needed opportunity to finish up suckering and pruning trees. In a normal year, those activities would have been finished in March.

This past week, temperatures jumped into the mid-90s and while everyone has been talking about looking forward to seeing the sun again, I'm not sure we are ready to jump full into summer yet. Strong, drying north winds were also a reminder of how fast our green farms will start turning brown.

The biggest activity this past week is getting irrigation for the olives online. The last two years we ran a few irrigation cycles in the wintertime, due to the drought. This allowed us to stay up on repairs and leaks in the system. We started our first irrigation cycle since October on May 1. Needless to say, it's been a busy week of digging, cutting and gluing. The olive trees won't bloom for another week and, looking at the inflorescences, it is going to be a big bloom. We'll have to wait until June to see actual set, but for now, we're hopeful for a big year.

The month of May is also the start of our peak sales season, as seasonal farmers markets open and we see increased traffic in our tasting room with travelers. This year has already seen a big increase in out-of-town visitors coming to the farm. The two big reasons—stunning wildflowers on Table Mountain and Oroville Dam.