From the Fields® - April 25, 2018

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery producer

Spring has sprung in Monterey County and with it comes the return of vegetables from the desert. Cauliflower and broccoli have kicked off and romaine should start soon. Iceberg lettuce is still a few weeks out. Cauliflower is breaking even and broccoli is in the tank.

Late rains drenched local strawberries and as a result crews will be picking and dropping the unmarketable berries.

The biggest issue continues to be labor, specifically, H-2A housing. Beds that ran $100 per week just two years ago are now $150 per week and up. Water is also an ongoing concern. We have enough reservoir storage for this year. However, if we don't get rain next year, we'll face the kind of disaster we did in 2016, when south county wells went dry and saltwater intrusion was its worst.

Ultimately, the Salinas Valley Salad Bowl is planted similar to 2017, and we can only hope for strong markets.

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

We have only received about 50 percent of our annual rainfall amount for the season here along the Central Coast.

Bud break in our vineyards was 10 days early, thanks to the warm days of January and early February. As sometimes happens, that early, false spring was followed by two weeks of unseasonably cold weather with many growers frost-protecting their vines for 12 to 15 nights in early March. Time will tell how much damage was caused by those cold nights in vineyards without frost protection.

Our crews started shoot-thinning pinot noir last week and we are applying our third sulfur spray on vines with 6 to 10 inches of growth. The potential fruit set in the pinot noir looks average, currently.

The weather, like always, is the joker in the deck as we approach bloom time. We continue to go back and forth between days in the low 90s followed by days in the 60s, with sporadic light rain forecast over the next few weeks.

We continue to work our way through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act process in the San Antonio Basin near Los Alamos. I currently sit on the newly formed Groundwater Sustainability Agency board, which takes a lot of time. Growers throughout the basin are working on how to pay for another unfunded mandate from Sacramento.

So far, we have been able to find people to fill our crews. As the strawberry season gets into full swing in the Santa Maria area, we anticipate keeping our crews full to be an issue, along with rising costs. We continue to mechanically prune, shoot-thin and remove leaves to help augment the expensive and shrinking labor force.

Every year is different, bringing its own unique challenges; 2018 is certainly no exception.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

After a wet March, there is much activity happening in the fields right now.

As the nuts are developing, we are experiencing increased humidity from irrigation and seasonal storms. This is causing rust to become a potential threat. Many are treating for rust as well as navel orangeworm before the onset of increased damage.

Some growers have also seen plant bug damage. This is mainly isolated to field edges and exposed rows. If not controlled, the plant bug will sting the almonds as they are developing, causing stains on the nut or nut drop.

Almond root zones are still pretty dry, which is causing us to irrigate. We are also fertilizing right now. The almond shoots and nuts are starting to grow more, and fertilizer will help in aiding tree and nut development.

Many are starting to see the crop set and make estimates for harvest. Some subjective almond estimates have been released. Crop size varies across the state, as damage from bloom time storms caused varying degrees of loss. Varieties that were in bloom during unseasonable colder weather were hurt the most.

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

We are in the front end of the sweet corn harvest. We started two weeks ago and we are dealing with good corn quality and production. But the very first week of harvest was certainly impacted by the late February-early March cold temperatures. We had a frost situation that hit on Feb. 22, when temperatures in the Imperial Valley got into the upper 20s. It was reflected on the first couple of our fields. But since then, we are harvesting a very nice product and I would say right on schedule.

The melons will start around the first of May and that crop looks encouraging. I wouldn't say it is a heavy set, but it is an adequate set. We will start with the cantaloupes and later in May we will start with the honeydew and variety melons.

We are good with water. Obviously, there is plenty of discussion about water availability, but we are good right now. There is always concern when we don't have at least an average watershed year. The last I saw, the Sierra was running around 55 percent of normal, depending on what area you were in. And the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains were in the mid-60 percent range. That is a little bit discouraging, but right now the water is good.

The labor is good. It may be a little bit tighter than what we have seen in the past, but acreage is down on some of the more sensitive produce crops such as onions, sweet corn and melons. So, I think we will be fine with labor supplies. We aren't in the heart of spring harvest, which really begins around the first of May.

Our commodities—the onions, the sweet corn and the melons—are all domestic supplies, so we aren't impacted by the trade wars.

By Steve Wiley, Monterey County seed producer

The Central Coast has been on a roller coaster ride this winter with regard to our weather patterns. We've experienced record winter highs, major gaps in rainfall and modest lows for chilling-hour accumulation.

Most recently, we received March and April rains that have been most helpful for our precipitation totals, but still have not gotten us up to normal for the season. Our two reservoirs are at 53 percent (Nacimiento) and 34 percent (San Antonio), but have received only 50 percent year to date rainfall totals compared to last season.

The success of overwintered vegetable seed crops (mainly brassicas) on the Central Coast will reflect the variable nature of the winter season's weather. While early warm weather in October and November allowed the transplanted crops to grow sturdy plants, the vernalization necessary to initiate seed stalk bolting occurred during a very narrow window and was followed by unseasonably warm and dry weather in January and February.

Then the rains came and the weather cooled off again in March. Seed set might be erratic and split, but at least there were no hard freezes that could have killed any crops. Spring plantings are on time.

Fresh produce markets are modest now, as vegetable growers transition back from the desert to the coast. Groundwater management is as usual the hot topic that continues to evolve. The Salinas Basin Agricultural Stewardship Group and Salinas Agricultural Water Association are getting critical mass for managing our precious groundwater resources, and we hope to be a model for successful cooperation as these groups gain consensus and push forward.