From the Fields® - August 23, 2017

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

Summer is in full effect on the Central Coast. Salinas Valley vegetable markets are depressed after a really nice spring run. In some cases, fields are being passed up due to an ongoing labor shortage and low markets.

We are seeing more and more water conservation measures such as "Planttape" in the valley. It does not appear there have been any significant changes in acres planted when it comes to the many vegetable crops this season. Strawberries continue to be a big player. We've seen consistent growth in our H-2A workforce when it comes to berries. However, finding housing for our H-2A workforce continues to be difficult.

Acreage of strawberries planted will probably drop again next year, due to an increase in the cost of production with lack of return to the farm.

The Monterey County Fair will be here in a few weeks and we're all getting ready to bid up the prices of youth-raised animals.

By Dirk Giannini, Monterey County vegetable grower

In the vegetable world, everyone's got their second crops going, and crops are looking good. Here in Salinas, it's been cooler than normal. Three weeks ago, we had higher-than-normal temperatures, but the crops are looking good, with high yields.

However, the pounds this time of the year on harvest start dropping and coming off as we approach the full fall lettuce season. Even though the yields are slightly off on pounds, carton counts are up. Head lettuce market is showing a little activity, as well as on the broccoli, but everything else is fairly depressed and competing against other growing regions throughout the U.S.

In general, the labor battle continues. The dog days of summer probably allowed us to be fine. We have plenty of help just during those dog days, but as the fall approaches, I think there'll be an increased shortage of labor to help us get harvest done. Sometimes it's hard to get through the summertime, as sales are down and yields are up. So it's an oversupply situation. These are tough days on the farm to get rid of product, especially when you're competing against those other producing areas back on the East Coast.

Everything seems on track to fulfill the planting schedule for the fall crop, and then prepare the ground for next season's planting. Second crop is done on some of our blocks. We're getting ready to lift and maintain those blocks for next spring, and we're incorporating cover crops and analyzing our soil and fertilizer programs to enhance the growth for next year.

The water supply has been rejuvenated with our great winter we had. However, it takes a lot more time than just one winter to recharge our aquifers. There's been a lot of attention on the (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) process, and a lot of meetings to work out SGMA and the plan that's due in the next couple of years. There's been a lot of activity on preparing and planning for the SGMA process. Working with Farm Bureau and the other associations, we're ensuring that ag has a voice and doing everything we can do to protect agriculture's water supply.

I think it's important that we make sure the aquifers continually recharge over time. It just doesn't happen over one winter. That SGMA process, it's an ever-changing program that agriculture has to continually fight to maintain our position in the sustainable process. We're looking at it as a vehicle to work with others to ensure our water supply and our future.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified farmer

The ag market this year has been trying. The commodity prices have been a little bit better than last year. Last year, most of the commodity wheat was below the cost of production, and this year prices have come up a little bit. Most of them are right at the cost of production.

On the real estate side, we are very active in farm realty. In the lower desert, where we have good water, it appears to be that because of the drought, farmers in the Central Valley are looking to buy here. We have had quite a bit of money come in from the Central Valley from farmers who have had the opportunity to reallocate assets. They have farms that have gotten in the way of "progress" and they have had to sell. Most of our sales in the last year have been Central Valley guys who have bought ground and secured assets with more secure water rights. That has held farm prices up, even though returns have shrunken in the past few years.

As far as the markets go, alfalfa prices have come back a little bit, but yields are down. Bermuda grass seed is a big market and yields were down quite a bit, so prices are up. Alfalfa seed production is pretty much over right now and we are from about average to a little below average there. Prices haven't been set yet.

Wheat last year was below the cost of production. Wheat prices have risen, but just in the past couple weeks they fell a little bit due to bad weather in the Dakotas. The Canadians had really good weather. I think there will be an increase in wheat here this year. Guys that do their own work and don't have much debt will make a little money, as long as they have good yields.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

It was a very wet spring, and as a result we got a very late start. When we were finally able to do field work, we pushed hard, cut a few corners where we could, and in our area we were able to get all the rice planted before the 20th of May, which is our goal every year. We know that a lot of acres couldn't get planted in the state because it was just too wet for too long—maybe 20 percent of the acreage.

The rice looks better than it has in years, and I don't know what to attribute that to other than the nice, warm summer that we have had. Weed control seems to be better than usual also, and I think that is also attributed to the warm weather we had once we planted the crop. Many of the herbicides seem to work better with warmer temperatures, but not all of them.

The rice is behind schedule because it looks to be a heavy crop. The heavier the yield, the longer it takes to mature. I am a little worried about that because we planted everything towards the tail end of our normal window. That, coupled with the fact that we look to have good yields, means it is going to be a late beginning of harvest. That is always a worry if the rains come early. Also, with the heavier crop, there is greater possibility of lodging, which slows the harvest. I am concerned about all of that.

Prices have been on the decline for the past several years. It appears that they have bottomed out and prices are trending up, which is heartening.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County dairy farmer

The heat has eased up a little bit, so the cows are starting to eat a little more and do a little better as far as heat stress. The summer was pretty harsh and breeding has taken a toll as a result of the long period of high heat.

It was a pretty bad year for heat, but it wasn't as bad as the media was making it out to be as far as the number of dead cows. It definitely had an impact on the ability of cows to get pregnant and also on milk production. We were down about where we normally are when there is a lot of heat.

We are also shaking almonds right now. The Independents and Nonpareils are being shook. That's what we are doing. Corn is starting to get chopped around here for silage, some of the early planted corn. My corn is still about a month away.

I see cotton guys getting to the end of their irrigation cycles. A lot of guys are putting on their last irrigation and then the cotton will start drying down and getting ready for defoliation.