From the Fields® - February 14, 2018

By Jim Ferrari, San Joaquin County walnut and cherry farmer

We are planting to replace trees that were sick or died last year. We're also doing our weed sprays, trying to get them done before the bud break. We're getting rid of leaves and mummy nuts. It's sufficiently dry that we can actually shred the nuts and the leaves. We're also finishing repairs on equipment and preparing for the busy season.

We're not in the almond business, but almond orchards near us are starting to bloom. In the cherries, we just finished our sprays to stimulate the buds for bud break. Almonds are first to break the buds, which signals that the cherries are coming. That puts the pressure on us to finish weed spraying so that we don't get any fuming that would hurt any of the buds.

In the orchards, we're also pruning. From about mid-February on, it's safe to prune young walnuts. With the walnuts, younger trees are pruned later so you eliminate frost damage. Right when the trees start moving, guys can start pruning cherries again. I try not to do it in the wintertime, to avoid diseases.

We're ahead on everything because we've been able to get into the fields. That's helped, but the lack of rain is going to hurt us later because the reserve of ground moisture isn't there. We'll have to start irrigating sooner. We might even put an irrigation on after we do weed removal, because some of the products that we use have to be set with rain or water.

Other than probably making the grass grow, the warm weather has not been detrimental, as long as it doesn't get too hot when the trees are in bloom. If you get 90-degree weather, maybe it will have an effect on bloom, but until we get to that sort of heat, there's not really a problem.

We put on one irrigation. The ground's perfect to plant trees, but that's not to say we couldn't use more water. We're in pretty good shape, but we need to replenish the ground supply of water a little bit more. As long as we're able to pump, there's plenty of water where I am located.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

Overall, this winter was unseasonably warm and dry. We are anticipating starting our first cutting of alfalfa now, which is probably 10 days to 2 weeks ahead of schedule. We are having a significant infestation of Egyptian alfalfa weevil.

Our dehydrated onions were planted in October, and they really look good and are off to a good start. We anticipate planting cotton, some field corn and some Sudan grass, probably around the first part of March.

We just harvested baby potatoes, which were red, white and purple. I think overall, the quality was exceptional on the baby potatoes. These potatoes are the same basic varieties, but they just harvested them earlier because they want to get these really small red, white and purple potatoes. They do an exceptional job marketing them and we are very fortunate to be part of that experience.

We are doing OK with water. We are in the 13th year of an agreement with Metropolitan Water District in which we fallow 25 percent of our irrigated lands.

Labor is always difficult for us. We have to pay a little extra plus travel time because our employees come from the Imperial Valley and it is an hour-and-15-minute drive. We have about 100,000 acres in our valley, compared to the Imperial Valley's 500,000 acres. We work with a few farm labor contractors to get the employees that we need at certain times a year.

By David Van Klaveren, Stanislaus County nursery producer

Nursery production in the Central Valley continues to grow. We continue to plant and increase production numbers to meet the demand. Winter activities include: transplanting to larger-size containers, and pruning, cleaning and applying weed control to our crops. The good economy and increase in construction has helped drive demand.

The lack of agricultural labor during peak periods this summer and fall has left us behind in our annual tasks. This has led to more hours spent during the winter months catching up. The crews have been busy all year.

As with other agricultural commodities, weather is a big factor in our industry. The lack of water has increased the need for water-wise plantings. This leads to careful planning when selecting varieties to grow. One good year of rainfall has not diminished the demand for drought-tolerant plants.

We continue to abide by new regulations, causing more paperwork. Quarantine compliance agreements, trucking rules, electronic logs, chemical application requirements and water coalition requirements all lead to more time spent in the office and less time outside growing.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We have had a lot of record warm temperatures, setting records day after day for two weeks straight. We are a little concerned about early bud break and then some frost. Frost is a real concern in a dry year. We may have the perfect recipe for frost damage coming up, but hopefully not. It has been very dry, so we have been irrigating our vineyards. We started irrigating the first week in February. That is very much out of the ordinary. Normally, we don't start irrigating until May or June.

We are running about 12 days ahead of normal and about 20 days ahead of last year, just due to not having the rain days. We are just coping with the situation and we really need some rain.

We have a lot of labor challenges. All of our labor costs are up about 40 percent from about three years ago. About 15 percent of the increase is due to the minimum wage increase. Mechanization is the only thought that I have; we are trying to find more ways to reduce labor and mechanize.

By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

Warm weather and lack of rain has been disappointing. Nonetheless, it's believed we received sufficient winter chill for prunes going into the 2018 crop. And nearby lakes and groundwater reserves are improved over two years ago.

We should get through the 2018 crop season without difficulty. Beyond that, who knows?

With this dry weather window, we're back in the fields pruning walnuts and laying down orchard strips with pre-emergents. Most local growers are dealing with nitrogen management plans, erosion control plans, 2017 tax accounting, state and federal crop reports and on and on.

It's hard to get out of the office and into the field for most farmers, as regulations keep piling on year after year. It seems farmers have been slowly transformed into adjunct government administrators—something none of us ever wanted.