From the Fields® - June 27, 2018

By Steve Heringer, Yolo County winegrape grower

A couple of May heat waves have sent vineyard shoot growth skyward and have balanced nicely with the cool spells we have had in between. We are blessed to live and work in Clarksburg, as even during the occasional heat events the cool delta breezes bring down our nighttime temperatures and provide a nice reset after the daytime highs.

Vineyard workers are busy with leaf pulling, shoot tucking, fruit thinning and wire lifting operations. All of the 20-plus varieties came through bloom with little to no issues and berry set is progressing nicely, with the clusters starting to really take shape and form. We are just starting our cluster counts, but it looks to be an average crop for the 2018 year so far.

Grape cartons—the protective covering around a newly planted grapevine—are sprouting up all over Clarksburg as new vineyard development projects are getting planted. Significant grape acreage is getting added in Clarksburg, as the quality and sustainability of this region continue to prove themselves across an ever-expanding list of great winegrape varieties.

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

We are scraping, prepping the floors for almond harvest, doing some herbicide work, spraying for weeds. The crop looks better than what people thought back in February and March, when we had bloom and then the cold weather. Based on the initial estimates, we're going to be really close to what we had last year. I'm seeing a normal crop.

For the almonds, we're also preparing for hull-split spray for navel orangeworm. That's probably going to go around July 5 or 6. It's all based on degree days. For my area, we're going to reach 1,700 degree days, which is the target number of days at a certain temperature that usually initiates the navel orangeworm moth flight. I'm going to do an application by air prior to that, to get stuff on top of the trees. Because the pressure was so bad last year for navel orangeworm, we're not taking any chances at all. Historically, I start harvest around the 5th of August.

As far as our pistachios, we're spraying for weeds and watering, putting a little fertilizer on. As far as the crop, it's a little early to tell what's blank and what's not, but they are starting to fill. The set on the tree looks pretty good. Harvest could go late August, early September.

Olives are finishing up bloom. Looks like we have a pretty good set. We had a pretty big crop last year, but this year it looks like a decent bloom. It's a little too soon to tell, because they're just finishing up. But all around, they look pretty decent. These olives are for oil. We're just watering right now. We're organic, so I put an organic fertilizer on about six weeks ago.

The water situation, at least on the federal side, we're 50 percent allocation. We started out at 25 percent and jumped to 40 and then to 45 and then we got bumped to 50. It's still not enough, but there's going to be enough available water that guys are going to be able to go buy it.

Everybody that I know of on the federal side is concerned about what happened this last water year, and that's the amount of water we're able to carry from one year to the next. From 2017 to 2018, we were limited to 0.174 acre-feet per acre, which is nothing. So, a ranch my size, we use about 9,000 acre-feet of water a year. I was able to carry over only 600 or 700 acre-feet. We've done real good at managing what we have, but it makes it difficult to plan, and we're already planning for 2019. Right now, they're tentatively telling us that's about the same amount that we're going to be able to carry over. For mature almonds, you need 3-plus acre-feet of water to get through the year. You're going to be able to carry over a smidgen of that. Hopefully, there'll be a decent allocation next year, depending on what the conditions of the reservoirs are and what the snowpack turns out to be.

When you look at your long-term setup, like four years out, you can see that if we go into another drought, we're headed right back into the same position that we were in three years ago. It makes it extremely difficult to plan, especially to plan for growth.

By Rob Miller, Del Norte County nursery producer

From an Easter lily grower's standpoint, we're all in the process of weeding, removing flowers off of the plants and working ground for this coming fall's harvest for replanting. That's the process at the moment.

We're all short of labor. Labor in this part of the world is a big concern because we do not have enough workers to do the job, so it's become more and more critical. With the impending overtime rules and wage increases, it becomes more and more stressful because the pricing of our product is not adjustable, just like other products in the state. It's market-driven rather than cost-driven. It's become tighter and tighter all the time.

We're trying to do a better job managing weed control, trying to do a better job managing what we do, generally speaking. Because our crop is so labor-intensive, there's a lot of stuff that we do that's not possible to replace with a machine, and so it's more and more critical all the time. Hopefully, these changes from a labor standpoint won't drive us out of business.

From a crop standpoint, last year was a very trying year. Because of the growing season, we had 140 inches of rain last year, where we normally get between 75 and 100. It was cold through the growing season. The crop didn't size properly, so there were quite a lot of shortages of product. This year, there's been a little bit less than average rainfall, although not drastically less—just a few inches. But it's been a cool season so far. It's too early to predict the crop for this fall. It's a little bit questionable based upon the cool growing season. With the cool season, the bulbs don't grow quite as large. They don't produce as much carbohydrate, which fills the bulb and makes a bigger bulb. Therefore, if these Easter lilies don't size to a proper size—based on circumference sizing—they're unsalable.

The market is reasonably acceptable. Because of last year's shortage and lack of income for growers—we had a losing season—we have increased the price. Now we're waiting to see whether the chain-store buyers will buy as many lilies as they have. It's a little bit up in the air from a crop standpoint and from a market standpoint, but I think it'll be OK.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County orchardist

We had a lot of frost damage in the almonds, unfortunately, so our crop is going to be down 40 to 60 percent. The walnuts look like they will be a fair crop. The biggest problem we are having with the prunes right now is finding a packer to sign with. Our former packer decided to not renew our prune contract, so we are facing a depressed market there. It would certainly help if we could do something about the tariffs. The prunes from Chile go into China duty free, and we are paying 16 to 26 percent tariffs, and so we need some help with trade.

We are a few days away from picking the apricots. Luckily, we have a good supply of water, so we are irrigating our orchards to keep everything well-watered. We are mowing, spraying and doing a lot of fertilization, especially on the younger trees. Prune harvest will be here around Aug. 15, so we are also working in the shop finished up some projects and getting the equipment ready for harvest. We follow the prunes with the almonds, then walnuts and pistachios, trying to finish up around the first week in November.

The only hand-picked crops are the peaches and apricots. Everything else is mechanically harvested. We are short of laborers and a lot of the people we do orchard management for do not understand why we are not getting some of our stuff done. We are behind and I could use another six to 10 guys right now.

I believe we need a wall with a door in it so we can get a viable guestworker program and get our crops harvested. We have been playing catchup since last year and it has just been difficult because we are behind with many projects. I hope we get caught up by the time we start harvest, because once we start harvest it is Katie bar the door.