From the Fields® - November 7, 2018

By Shaun Crook, Tuolumne County forester

It has been a good summer for most of the guys in the forest areas of Central California. There has been a lot of activity, logging trees that have suffered tree mortality. There is diseased and dying timber still being logged across the Central Sierra. We are starting to see a few logging trucks with green timber, so I think we are slowly shifting from the diseased and dying timber to going back to harvesting green timber.

Now that we are into November, people in this part of the state will be keeping an eye on the weather. The weather will dictate how long we will be able to work before it freezes, so we don't have too many opportunities in the weeks ahead. Every storm will be crucial, and forest practice rules change for winter operations. We might get that storm that pushes us home for the winter. Most guys will try to log for as long as they can, which is good because the mills still want timber.

The price for board-feet could be better, but everyone is doing OK. Pine prices have been depressed, but redwood and cedar are doing better. 

On the cattle end, most guys have gathered their forest allotments and brought them home for the winter. Most ranchers are fall calvers, so we are starting to see calves running around in the fields, so it is a fun time of year to see the fresh babies. Most guys have taken their equipment home and are working on it, taking care of all of the things that had to be neglected during the summer.

Everybody is just crossing their fingers and hoping for some good rains and green grass.  

 

By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County dairy farmer and winegrape grower

On the dairy, it's about the same all year round. We're organic now, so we're dealing with the organic regulations. The price could be a little better, but there's a lot of milk—both conventional and organic—so our prices are not what they used to be. We're getting by.

We pasture from January until June or July. Now we're just dryland—because we don't irrigate—and waiting for the rains to come. We had a good start here a few weeks ago; we had over an inch of rain. The grass got started, but it'd be nice if we had a little more rain now. This is pretty typical. The cows are basically fed organic feed, whatever we need to supplement them and keep them going. We raise our own silage and we put that in in the springtime, so we have enough silage until next May. But I have to buy the organic grain and alfalfa. 

Since Nov. 1, we've been in the federal milk marketing order. There's a whole lot of changes coming, with a lot of guesswork on what's going to happen and what's not going to happen. I personally think we should have stayed with the California system, but the industry voted to go to a federal order. Some of the changes might be good for us, but I don't think all of them are going to be the best thing for us. It's neither here nor there; that's the way it is now. We're into a new world. 

In organic, we're really a little isolated from the federal order because organic prices are higher than the established federal order prices. The big thing is the quota system. I'm not as big of a quota holder as I used to be because when I went organic, I sold some of my quota, but I still have some. How quota is going to be paid for—a lot of that is not known, so we'll just have to see how it all plays out. 

On the grapes, we finished about two weeks ago. This year was a really nice year—ideal summer for the grapes. They did well. We had good crops. The only thing that was a little bit of a setback was about a few weeks ago when we had that rainstorm. That put the picking off for about a week to 10 days; we couldn't do anything. After that, we had really nice weather and we got all the grapes picked. 

 

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County cherry and walnut grower

We are now wrapping up walnut harvest. We began with a slow start around Sept. 20. The early varieties seemed to be anywhere from five to seven days late this season. This is believed to be attributed to the February freeze and early spring rains pushing the catkin bloom back a bit. 

Most walnut varieties were heavier in yield compared to last year, but it was still not a bumper crop. It is estimated that there are about 690,000 tons being harvested this year and that has been attributed to a slightly heavier crop, and more younger orchards coming into production. Quality has seemed variant across the state, but for San Joaquin County, or the orchards we have custom harvested this season along with our own, the quality has seemed fairly good. 

With another hot summer, we have seen more sunburned walnuts and some darker meats on the early varieties. The 0.5 inch to 1.5 inches of rain we got on Oct. 3 helped speed the opening of the hulls on walnuts and only pushed things back a few days. Luckily, we have had perfect weather for the harvest this year.

Now that we are wrapping up harvest, we are beginning our winter prep work. Winter weed sprays are going to be applied the next few weeks and backhoeing of dead trees for replants is beginning as well. As soon as the prep is done, hopefully we get some rain to put the trees to sleep and we can begin pruning our cherries and walnuts. We are all praying for a cold, wet winter.

 

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

After a mild winter with below-average rainfall, growing conditions were good and supplies of most vegetables were plentiful.  With that, the accompanying prices were often below harvest costs and many acres of product, especially romaine, were left in the field. 

Summer continued with the same markets, but a couple of heat spells, which pushed maturity, and an overall cool, foggy second half of summer, which slowed maturation, created gaps in production. This, as well as insect problems in other growing areas, caused the markets to start to rise on many items by the beginning of August.

 Cabbages and broccoli led the way, followed by lettuces a few weeks later.  Even celery price, which had been rock bottom, finally came up in mid-October.  What was looking like the makings of a disastrous year in June did not appear so daunting at the end of October.  

We are hopeful that a good Thanksgiving market will push us over the top, and we will be able climb out of the first half of the year whole and end up being profitable for the year. 

 

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

Winegrape harvest on the Central Coast is winding down. It's been a drawn-out process waiting for our brix levels to get where they needed to be for picking. Yields seem to be all over the board, with northern Santa Barbra County being light and farther south being heavier.

It was a challenging year for botrytis, especially with the 0.25 inches of tropical rainfall we received in early October. Growers were busy dusting and applying dry-down materials to stop the spread of the fungus after the rain, especially in the chardonnay. I expect harvest for red varieties will go through the middle of November in many vineyards.

Selling fruit on the open market has been tough this year as well, with wineries reaching capacity while trying to move bulk wine from last year.

Growers continue to learn more about complying with the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act mandate affecting groundwater basins and the creation of groundwater sustainabilitity agencies to manage their basins. Coupled with SGMA is the new 4.0 ag order from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, as our current five-year agricultural waiver expires this year. We are very grateful to the California Farm Bureau Federation legal team and the help they are providing on these issues.