From the Fields® - September 13, 2017

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

We are finishing up with our avocado crop. It is uniformly light and rather small in size, but we got pretty darn good prices.

The lemon crop has actually been pretty good, although we had some mite damage that was a little distressing. I have one lighter pick, and that will probably occur at the end of September.

We had an 18,000-acre fire very nearby. The closest approach to my place was about a mile. The fire folks actually did a pretty good job keeping it out of agriculture. There was a lot of hard work there and as a result, there was not much agricultural damage on the south side. There was some damage inland in the Santa Ynez Valley, primarily grazing land.

Other than that, we are just trying to get caught up. We had some pretty good rains here, so there has been an extended weed-control season. After dealing with the rains and the delays caused by the rains, we are just starting to get caught up now.

Labor remains tight. Several years ago, I could call a contractor and have a crew within one or two days. Now, especially with the avocados, we need to schedule at least two to three weeks in advance. There really isn't any extra labor around anyplace. What we are doing, as the avocado harvest window seems to shorten, we find other tasks to try to keep them busy during the offseason.

By Bob Steinacher, Tehama County fig and walnut farmer

We grow fresh, organic figs. We have gone through feast and famine with our fig season. A few weeks ago, we had way too much fruit and not enough time to pick it, to get it at the correct stage of ripeness. And now, our production has dropped in half and we can't pick enough fruit to meet my orders.

That means I can't take the orders that I could possibly take from some of my customers. Most of my customers, I covered what they need. But our largest customer, we can only cover some of their orders.

The market is very strong. People still want the figs, but there aren't a lot of organic figs available at this time.

The peak in production was because of all the hot weather we had. After that, the trees have sort of partially shut down because of the extreme heat we've had. We've had up to 113-114 degrees. We could've thrown another 100 people out in the fields, but the problems is, the fruit just gets overripe overnight when it's under extreme heat conditions. We had a lot of days of 100 to 105 degrees, where the fruit was just coming too fast and it actually ripened overnight.

We are in midseason. The peak is over, but we'll continue picking for at least another two months. We should have fruit until the end of October, which is normal for us.

With walnuts, they've been holding their own. We have microsprinklers in the orchard, and with the high temperatures during the day, we will irrigate them in the afternoons to cool down the orchard temperature. That has worked very well for us. We just have to monitor the humidity and if it gets to be fairly high, we have to come in with a Botryosphaeria spray. As long as we are on top of that, we can keep it under control.

I know everybody is concerned about labor. Our labor has been OK. We've gotten by with both hiring ourselves and we also have a contractor. Our people are very steady, a lot of returnees. They're our core. But we do have to use labor contractors now.

By Mike Jani , Mendocino County forester

Because of the late start we got, a lot of the mills are short on materials, short on logs and racing to finish projects before the rains come again in the fall. We're trying to get production wrapped up out in the woods.

We're lacking in logging crews and logging equipment to get all the work done. It's a combination of shortage of skilled personnel, loggers and the actual infrastructure of log trucks and logging equipment. I think it goes back to the downturn in 2008—at least that's a part of it. People have been reluctant to spend the capital that it takes to buy new logging equipment. It's incredibly expensive.

The other thing in the redwood region is getting experienced personnel. Some believe we have a hard time attracting entry-level loggers in part because of the pot production. It's easier to go out and get a job trimming buds and working in that industry on the North Coast. I personally think it's a combination of that and the fact that logging is not a full-time job because of all the protection measures that we have to adhere to. We can't log into the winter periods in the redwood region. It's very difficult from a regulatory aspect. So we find ourselves racing against the clock right now.

We're trying to rock more of our roads to extend out the length of the logging season for our contractors. We're trying to stimulate folks into investment in equipment by giving them some assurances of job security in terms of: If you have the equipment that we need, then we'll keep you busy as a subcontractor.

The markets appear to be pretty good. Log prices have been very good for timberland owners. I think that in part is because of the scarcity of logs and the short season that we've had.

The redwoods are pretty resilient in terms of insects and fire and even drought, unlike the Sierra species that will get bug infestations. We by and large made it through fairly well. We did see some mortality in Douglas firs, but not a lot.

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County almond, pistachio and olive farmer

The almond crop is currently in full swing. I finished my Nonpareils two weeks ago. Now I'm starting on my pollinators. A lot of acres are waiting to be shook at the same time, so trying to get from field to field has been a challenge.

This has been more of a normal year as far as starting times for the Nonpareils. The last four years, when we were in a drought situation, I had been shaking from the 16th to the 18th of July. This year, we didn't start the Nonpareils until about the 6th or 7th of August, which is more normal. But the pollinators seem to be coming fast. They're back to back against the Nonpareils. This really hot weather has caused a lot of stress on the trees.

I'm fighting mite issues. You've got pesticides you can spray, but you have to deal with preharvest intervals. These last three weeks of 105- to 110-degree temperatures—everything just blows up, meaning it's hard to get control of the mite situation. With the mites and insect pressure, it causes the trees to want to drop their leaves because they're under so much stress.

Yield-wise, I'm probably normal. I've had a couple of fields exceed my expectations and I've had some fields that are a little lower than my expectations.

Our biggest challenge right now is trying to get water back on after harvesting the Nonpareils, knowing that the other varieties are coming. That's the quandary. Monterey is one of the later varieties, but I've already shook, have them on the ground and picked some of them up. That's usually a mid-September shake.

I've been going to the same huller for 25 years and he's seen record numbers of loads coming in every day, because everything is ready and people are trying to move as fast as they can. He's receiving 110 to 120 loads a day. That creates a real challenge for trucking and trailers, with it all coming at the same time.

Valley-wide, from what I hear, I think we're dealing with very high insect damage from the navel orangeworm. Pistachios are also susceptible to the navel orangeworm. Guys have to be really on top of their spray program to limit the insect damage.

Pistachios are more on track as far as the harvest dates. Some pistachios have started in the south valley. I would think within the next couple of weeks, you're going to start seeing some activity around here.

With olives, I've got two varieties for oil: Arbequina will come off sometime in early October and the Arbosana, which is a later variety, will come off at the end of October/first part of November. They're high-density plantings, mechanically harvested. We'll start pulling samples here around the end of September and figuring out what our oil content is, the acids and whatnot that go into the formula of when your olives are ready. It looks like I have a decent set.