From the Fields® - August 22, 2018

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

While I am uncertain about the number of really hot days we have had in succession this growing season, it is interesting to note that the persistent smoke and haze in this valley air basin as a result of these terrible wildfires has actually moderated the heat to an extent.

Looking back at the summer of 2017, we had nearly a month of at or near triple-digit temperatures, which without a doubt contributed to the reduction in rice yields reported pretty much throughout the rice-growing areas of California. We noted, at least in our fields, a significant amount of blast and stem rot infection last summer as well, presumably exacerbated by the heat.

With a number of our fields having been fallowed in 2017 as a result of the prior winter's rains and flooding, we reduced the amount of pre-plant nitrogen applied to those fields to compensate for some anticipated increases in fertility. We, like many folks who farm reclaimed soils, grow rice in a monoculture, generally planting the fields every year. We have learned that leaving a field out of production for one year can result in a surprising recovery of fertility and yield potential.

We were relieved to see some pretty decent weed control this season, due to the availability of recently introduced crop-protection materials. The question remains as to how many cycles they will continue to be effective until biotype resistance issues loom again.

While I haven't heard the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the rice industry final estimates of the total California rice acreage planted in 2018, it is without a doubt a "full" acreage year. The sharp reduction of production in 2017 contributed to market clearing and improvement in paddy prices going into 2018. Needless to say, we're hoping that the uptick in prices holds through the 2018 marketing year and beyond.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

We are about halfway through harvesting our processing tomatoes. The yield looks good, so good in fact that we may not be able to deliver all our product because of the limits on our contracts to the canneries. But it is looking better than budgeted. We are harvesting garlic right now, and we don't know yet how that will turn out. I am hearing that yields are better, but until we get the crop off, we just don't know.

Almonds are being shaken. All the nonpareils are being swept up and brought in to the huller. I am hearing that yields are not as good as they were hoping, so we may see a lighter nonpareil crop.

Cotton is developing very well, especially when compared to last year, which was a terrible bug season. This year, not so much. Cotton holds a lot of promise for a good yield, particularly pima.

This year we ended up getting 50 percent of our water deliveries. We started at 20 percent and by late April we got up to 50 percent, which doesn't do any good for planning. So, we are fallowing some land, based on what we heard earlier. It also meant that we had to pull some well water. We are hoping that next year will be better and that the project will work like it used to work.

We have mechanized crops, so we have not experienced any labor shortages. Talking to some of the table grape guys, it sounds like a mixed bag. Some are having a little trouble and others are not.

Almonds are the first thing that comes to mind with all these tariffs, as does pistachios. Cotton has been affected as well. For the processors, I'm sure it means something to the garlic and tomato guys as it moves into Canada and Mexico or abroad. So, there is real concern about how long the tariffs will last. Hopefully, we will find a solution soon.

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County Brussels sprouts grower

Spring was a completely different situation from the past two years, as greatly increased acreage appeared to finally meet demand. The $45-60 markets that dominated the past few seasons were but a memory; pricing was typically in the $18-25 range and actually fell into the single digits for the first time in the past five years for a short period. Quality issues were a part of the problem, as many Mexican producers were having difficulty making deliveries due to insect damage and other quality issues.

Production moved up into Southern California and the Santa Maria-Oxnard areas in late spring and is continuing. The Salinas Valley/Castroville area is harvesting now, with Santa Cruz just starting up with handpicking. Summer in the Santa Cruz area has been perfect Brussels sprouts weather, as we have hardly seen any sun since June. A heavy layer of fog has blanketed the coastal areas, which is what this plant really needs to produce top quality Brussels sprouts. Insect pressure was noticed early farther south, with Diamondback moth infestations causing problems in some fields.

Market has been fairly steady for the past three to four weeks, with prices mostly $22-28. Early indications are looking toward a good crop going forward. Though plants are a bit shorter than normal, sprout formation is good and quality has been very good. Supplies should continue to grow as we move into the traditional "season" for Brussels sprouts, with demand expected to increase post-Labor Day.

By Ken Doty, Santa Barbara avocado and lemon grower

The avocado crop has had a hard year. First of all, with the lack of rain until March and then the heat wave we had on July 7, we are probably down a couple of sizes on the usual size curve. So that means about a 30 percent loss in volume just on size alone. And then the heat wave whacked another 15 to 20 percent off that. So, this area has had its struggles with the avocado crop this year. That heat wave burned off a lot of crop, so nobody is really talking about much volume for next year.

I only have a couple days left and I will be done with the 2018 avocado crop. The 2019 fruit won't come off until probably February at the earliest. This would have been a pretty good year without the loss of size and the heat loss.

The lemons fared better in that heat in seeing visible damage, such as scorching. Typically, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties have a clean-up pick, which would be the last of three or four picks for the year. That clean-up pick usually occurs in August or September, and a lot of that fruit that would have been ready then was dropped because of the heat. Almost all of the yellow fruit fell, and it also knocked off a lot of very tiny fruit from olive size and less, so that will decrease yields some for next year. It hit 110 at my house. We went from several very mild days to a sudden heat wave. It was a shock to the trees. But lemons are pretty forgiving, and I think they will respond better in terms of volume than the avocados.

We aren't seeing any impacts yet from the tariffs, but you have to remember that the Chinese have been playing games with imports for years and years and closing access for fake phytosanitary issues and things like that, so I'm just going to try to take this in stride and keep on moving.