From the Fields® - March 28, 2018

By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County diversified grower

In Siskiyou County, we are receiving a little bit of rain. The snowpack is low and that's going to be a problem going late into the season. Even with the storms now, if they provide snow it won't be cold enough to freeze it down to have it last very long. So, the snow that is there will wash off pretty quickly. It's a concern for growers who depend on surface water supplies later in the season.

A lot of people who are planting or will plant should have enough water to germinate any crops that need to come up. Groundwater for the most part should be OK. It probably won't last long into the season. There's always a gamble, but it shouldn't be too bad, the way it looks right now. The biggest problem will be if our rivers run out of water; that is always a concern.

Feed is looking OK, but not great. It depends on what happens in the next 30 days as far as rainfall. If the rainfall is good, the cattle and the feed should be OK. Commodity prices and hay prices are fairly strong and should be coming up this next year. Livestock prices, cattle and sheep both, look like they are OK, not necessarily strong, but OK, so things are looking pretty good that way.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This year, we have had a very inconsistent winter. We went from dry months to warm- weather months, then cold months and now we are in a wet period.

As far as the farming operations in the vineyards, we got an early start on our pruning and we were able to stay ahead of the game this year. With our field operations, we were able to catch up. Even though it has been wet for the last week or so, we are not really behind.

Our concern now with bud break coming soon is the danger of frost. This new growth is very susceptible to damage from freezing temperatures. With these inconsistent weather patterns, we are always concerned about frost until the end of April. So, we have a month to go before we can stop worrying about frost.

The almonds have finished blooming in our county. Unfortunately, there was some cold and wet weather during bloom. How much it affected the crop, we are not sure.

The cherries are just starting to bloom in this area. When you have this kind of weather, the bees don't fly and the pollen is wet. So, we will have to wait and see what happens with the cherries.

Because of the continuous problem of finding enoiugh qualified employees, we started building up our crews early this year in anticipation of a labor shortage. With the dry weather, we finished up our winter chores at the end of February, which was totally opposite of what we had to deal with last year.

Every year is different and we have learned to work around it. Last year we lost a lot of days, but this year because of the weather we were able to prune most of those days.

It seems like with farming, it is all done around the weather and we can't control that.

By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County forester

Weather kind of has everything on hold right now. The sawmills are looking for wood. Reforestation projects are also on hold because of weather. They are getting tree planting done, but it’s even tough to get out there on the roads right now because of the wet weather.

I anticipate that within the next week or so we’ll be able to start working again. I have a lot of reforestation projects that I have in the works and there’s also some beetle-kill salvage we’re working on. We are also bidding on some government hazard-tree removal, the type of projects that will impact infrastructure, whether it is roads, waterlines, ditches or canals.

I’ve had trouble finding qualified equipment operators. That is very difficult. It takes a lot of training to put someone in a half-million-dollar tractor on steep terrain. They have to be able to be an operator and somewhat of a mechanic, so it’s not easy finding people.

Salaries are definitely a big portion of what I spend every month, and workers’ compensation insurance goes along with it because of the industry that we are in.

By Jennifer Clarke, Monterey County vegetable grower

On the food safety front, we have spent the winter getting ready for the Food Safety Modernization Act's Produce Safety Rule.

All growers need to have one person on staff who has gone through the Produce Safety Rule training. Many classes have been offered and will continue to be offered to meet this requirement. Those of us who grow leafy greens and follow the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement metrics were already very close to compliance with the Produce Safety Rule.

There are a few adjustments that everyone should be making to their food safety plans around training documents, signing off on records and correcting problems. Although the Food and Drug Administration has put off inspections until 2019, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has aligned their audit with the Produce Safety Rule and will start using the new audit April 1.

Even if you do not grow leafy greens, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement metrics and audit checklist could be a good resource for your operation.

It seems as if Mother Nature waited to start winter until just a few weeks ago; and we've received some much-needed rain. There are still a few weeks until harvest season gets up and going, and people are anxious to come back to work. We hope that harvest crews will be full this season so that we are able to get our products out of the ground and to market.

By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower

This year has started out interesting. We had a beautiful, late, spring-like, warm and dry February and got a lot of work done in the vineyard. Then outdoor work came to a stop with a cold and wet March.

But this is not unusual. Having a wet March is fairly common and we in San Benito County remember well the Miracle March when we got a much-needed deluge some 20 years ago. It was a gully washer, more brown water flowing from eroded creek banks than what us ground disturbers could ever generate in 100 years. Not sure on the math, but the point is clear.

I woke up to a frost this morning, and I'm sure the apricot growers are worried. Smudge pots burning in March used to be a common occurrence here in Hollister in the 1950s and '60s, resulting in healthy, young fruit and a black sky. We saved the apricot crop many times in those days, but that practice is long gone.

The cherries are a late-blooming fruit tree here, and too often during the bloom, bees are not getting on with their work when it's raining or cold in March. Our cherry and apricot growers are not sure how this all turns out.

But March weather is not as big a factor for winegrapes and walnuts, so I'm looking forward to another year of great, red winegrapes and bright, white Chandler walnut meats.