From the Fields® - September 27, 2017

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

We are in full swing of harvest here in the North State. We just finished up our prune harvest. It was one of the longest prune harvests in memory.

Between having the hot weather and the crews having to knock off early, and even on the warmer days just slowing down, it made for a longer harvest. But the trees are shook now and the fruit is at the dryer.

This year, the prune trees took a real beating. Between the heavy crop that we had on the trees and the hot weather, everybody is reporting that there has been a lot of breakage, so we have a lot of brush to clean up. Talking to other growers in the area, they are all fighting the same problem.

We are about two-thirds done in almond harvest. It looks like yields will be up this year. I don't have the final weights yet, but just looking at the loads coming out of the orchards, they just appear to be higher.

We are seeing higher-than-normal navel orangeworm damage this year. Our pest control advisor said it is the worst he has seen in the 20 years that he has been in the business—and he is finding it all over: Yolo County, Butte, Colusa, Glenn, everybody is running higher. We are all dealing with it, and we probably won't be earning many premiums this year for low-reject levels. So it is going to cost us money this year. Even though we got the sprays on in a timely manner, for some reason they are really bad this year.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower

With the long, wet winter and spring, we got a late start on about everything. The last of the tomato transplants went in two weeks late and the winegrapes and walnuts leafed out behind too.

But July and August were warmer than normal, with the late August heat reaching 115 in some spots, a full 12 degrees higher for the couple of hot spells we expect each year.

We had enough moisture in our ground and vigor in our plants, so no serious burning occurred. No raisins! And everything has caught up with normal harvest dates and with the winegrapes expected to now be a couple of weeks early.

It is too soon to know about yield and quality for the late-maturing Chandler walnuts. That harvest date is usually set by the timing of a late September or early October rain that allows the green hulls to split and the nuts to start falling.

Last year that first rain was too big, the ground got too soft and the harvest equipment sinks if you do not let the ground firm up first. The orchards with mowed sod provide a little more flexibility to go in wet.

Other than having trouble getting in a grape thinning crew in late May, the labor supply has been OK. The shortages in the area tend to be for the jobs that are less preferable and for smaller growers that have less long-season clout with the contractors.

We are set up to harvest the grapes with machines, but the winery prefers a hand-harvested product. We'll see how that goes in a few weeks.

By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

California’s prune harvest started about a week later than normal and was completed by mid-September. It’s still a bit early to estimate the crop size. Pre-harvest estimates pegged it at 105,000 tons. However, fruit size was an issue this year with a good bit of off grade along with a late fruit drop.

In addition, indications are that dry-away ratios are poor, so that number may be reduced somewhat. In the field, we’re doing some clean up of broken limbs, dead tree removals and post-harvest irrigation.

As for walnuts, the husk fly pressure is much less this year on my farm. And it started much later. We’re getting prepared for the final push before harvest by spraying down weeds and chopping up early nuts that fell prematurely due to sunburn, etc.

We always worry about the impact that sunburn may have on the season’s nut quality, particularly with the Hartley variety because so many of the nuts are held on the outside of the canopy. It’s too early to say what nut quality will be, so we will just have to see.

There is optimism among farmers about walnut pricing because the state objective forecast has come in well under the early projections. And last season’s crop has moved quite well. All this bodes well for healthy sales of the 2017 crop.

By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

We are just finishing up harvest of our peppers—both processing and fresh market.

Pepper quality started out really good, but with the hot weather of a couple weeks ago and insect pressure that came on like gangbusters, there has been some quality issues. Hopefully, with the cooler weather, that will help.

The weather this week has been OK, but a couple weeks ago it was unbearably hot and humid. It caused a flare-up in all kinds of insects, with insects getting into crops that they normally don't get into. So, everyone has been dealing with that.

The summer strawberries are just starting to be harvested and the winter strawberries are just starting to get planted. We are planting cilantro and celery right now.

Labor is the big issue in Ventura County. It is short in all sectors, not only agriculture, but in other sectors of the economy down here. I'm not sure where it is going to end up, but it may not end up in a good spot.

Everything we grow is basically hand- harvested and we are doing all we can to keep our crews intact. Obviously, wages are heading upward, not only because of increase in the minimum wage, but also the competitive pressures.

Even though wages are heading up, we still don't see a labor supply. So, a lot more folks are looking to the federal H-2A program for a bridge to gap that shortage, so we will just have to see where that goes.

The other issue is water. We have water policy issues going on down here and we are trying to get that resolved. There are a lot of moving parts of the puzzle that we are trying to get together.

Usually in October, the days start getting shorter and the insect pressure starts to back off. But we will just have to wait and see. Every year is a new year and every year brings its own challenges.

By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

In the Northern Plains—eastern Montana, North and South Dakota, and parts of Minnesota—drought conditions in 2017 intensified through mid-August and as a result honey crops are short. The price of clover honey is higher, but like all agriculture, if you don't have a crop to sell, it doesn't much matter what the price is.

Beekeepers are now focused on preparing their hives for the rigors of the 2018 pollination season. The supply of quality hives is limited.

Beekeepers in North Dakota and California get closer together every single day. What I mean by that is that the inputs the beekeepers are placing in their hives right now—protein supplements, feed syrup, maintenance and new equipment, queen replacements—all those activities are aimed at meeting the demand for pollination services.

Forage initiatives are gaining momentum across the country, which will benefit bees and indirectly benefit growers who rent bees to pollinate their crops. But much needs to be done.