From the Fields® - October 17, 2018

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

There could be a mediocre El Niño this winter. They are up to 60 percent as far as forecasting that and it has been strengthening a little bit over the last few months. So that brings some optimism to all of California. El Niño tends to bring above-average rainfall. We would love a repeat of the winter of 2016-17.

The Central Valley is wrapping up their melon harvest and we just started our melon harvest, which is a little earlier than planned by about five days. That is an indication that August and September were above-average temperatures. The quality is good, even though we did have some rain down here.

We grow a long-shelf-life melon. We also grow some extended-shelf-life melons, so we have a mixture of melons that fit into these categories. When the breeders work on these different characteristics, they are trying to accommodate the growers/shippers while maintaining good flavor and high solubles for the consumer.

We are continuing to harvest lemons; that started in late August and the quality is good. We think we have about an average crop in terms of yield and we are very pleased with the quality of the fruit. There is demand for lemons right now, so that is positive.

We are also growing winter vegetables—the broccoli, cauliflower and the leaf items— and they are all looking pretty good. Most growers are pleased with what they see in the vegetable fields.

Labor seems to be status quo right now. There seems to be more of the H-2A workers who have migrated into the workforce, so I would like to believe that the labor situation is in a little better position than we were in two or three years ago.

By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

We are wrapping up all the summer activities. We have been extracting honey over the last couple months and most of that is in the barrels. We have honey orders that we fill from that stock.

The bees have been treated for mites and we are in the process of placing them in winter locations. We are also entering discussions regarding pollination for next year.

At this time of year, we always assess whether to expand. We know we are going into a new season. We are status quo on one hand, but we prepare ourselves to move in another direction if we have to do that.

The demand for bees for almond pollination, which is the first tree crop that happens in the new year, seems to be that they will need more bees. With new plantings coming into production, right now I don't know whether there will be a shortage of bees or too many bees.

In California, we had some extremely hot weather, which cut back on the food sources that bees normally get, whether it is for honey production or for sustaining the hive. I don't know how that is working out. Also, the many fires destroyed a lot of colonies because of the location they were in. The damage assessment isn't in yet. So, there could be a shortage of bees next year.

Honey production wasn't too great. A lot of that was because of all the smoke from the fires that curtailed a lot of photosynthesis on plants. Those plants produce blooms and flowers for honey production. The bees didn't act quite right in that situation because it was kind of like semi-darkness and that is something that we very rarely experience. It is kind of a fluke thing, but it did happen.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

We are hoping to wrap up almond harvest in the next few weeks. We have been busy shaking, sweeping and picking up since the beginning of August. It has been a harvest year where we are rushing to finish a variety or field and then end up waiting for the next variety because they are still green.

We had a good stretch of 100-degree-plus days into August, but it's cooled off the last few weeks. The cooler weather has been delaying the almond maturity and kept the nuts greener, prohibiting us from shaking them on schedule.

We are gearing up orchard clean-up and leveling. We have been getting ready for postharvest fertilizing and irrigation.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

It's mid-October and rice harvest is in full swing. We are about two-thirds done, and from what I can tell our neighbors are all at about the same stage.

Harvest got off to a late start this year, a week or maybe 10 days later than I would have expected, given our planting date in the first half of May. But yields have been average to good, about 5-10 percent above the disappointing yields from last year. The field we planted last, which we are just harvesting now, is coming in about 10 percent above normal. I attribute that to the fact that the field was in row crops for the past several years and thus more fertile and less weedy than typical old rice ground. Nevertheless, I have heard anecdotally that around the valley the later-planted fields are yielding better than the earlier ones. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but if it is it might be due to the hot weather we had during the flowering period of the earlier-planted fields.

There is much less lodging this year than last, at least in our area, so harvest is going more smoothly. The straw seems greener than it usually is at harvest time, and our fields were wetter than normal when we started up. This led to some minor rutting problems, but no big deal.

The next big job when harvest is complete is dealing with all of the straw. On our farm, that means chopping the straw and disking it in and, assuming water is available, flooding the fields up for the winter. I really like it when the ducks and geese come back.