From the Fields® - December 5, 2018

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This year, it was a lengthy harvest, but it went very smoothly. We did get one minor rain event, but it didn't really affect anything. We reached a couple weeks where there was some demand on the harvesters to get enough loads out, but it wasn't a major obstacle. The yields were average to a little above average, depending on varieties.

I think one of the most important things is that we had a safe harvest. As harvest approaches, one is always fearful of someone getting injured, but when it is all said and done, we can knock on wood and say we all got through in a safe manner. Delivering loads is important, but when there is an injury, we need to deal with that. The loads we can manage. If we don't get something out today, we can do it tomorrow.

We do have our own wineries, but we also utilize other avenues for our grapes. We sell to just about everyone. When it is all said and done, all the grapes get harvested and marketed. The harvest went 11 weeks this year, and that is pretty much working six days a week. There were a couple weeks where we went seven days. We are probably 97 percent machine harvested.

Just driving around the Lodi area the last couple years, and especially this year, I'm seeing that the old head-pruned vines that need to be hand-picked are getting pulled out and replaced with new plantings on trellises to enable machine harvesting. It gets to the point where is a matter of profit management.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

Winter has arrived, and we are winding down operations for the year in our alfalfa. We are just finishing up our ninth cutting; we typically get a ninth cutting on about 20 percent of our alfalfa. Our demand for retail alfalfa continues to remain firm and we are hoping that the firm demand will continue over the winter for our barn-stored alfalfa. The yield was fairly average, nothing remarkable. We will soon have some sheep from Idaho arrive for winter grazing of our alfalfa.

We are beginning to pick our upland short-staple cotton. We have picked about 20 percent to date and yield looks about average. Of course, we won't know quality until we get those gin reports back, so I have no idea what the quality will be. We have some different varieties that we are trying, so we remain optimistic that the quality will be good.

We have some baby potatoes—reds, purples, whites—that we have started desiccating our first fields and it looks to move along smoothly. The crop looks promising.

Durum wheat, which is the wheat that goes to making pasta, is a crop that we would normally plant right now, but the contracts are absolutely terrible. We are in the region that produces high-quality durum wheat. It is a high-quality, high-value, high-protein grade of wheat that is exported to Italy, made into pasta and then shipped back to the United States. The Mexicali Valley, the Imperial Valley, the Yuma Valley, the Palo Verde Valley and Parker-Poston is the area that is a swath that produces this high-quality durum wheat. They are offering durum wheat contracts between $160 and $180 a ton, and honestly, I don't think we can grow it for less than $200 a ton. So, we aren't going to plant durum. There was a lot of wheat that was carried over from last year and the North Dakota area produced an unusually high-quality durum, so that filled that market. So, we will probably plant some kind of oat forage type of substitute and hope that next year we will have some better contract prices available.

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

Harvest is completed for the 2018 year. Due to the extended warm fall, we had one of the easiest harvest seasons we have ever had. Only one day did we have rain and that was early on. Most years we have a few storms that slow us down and muddy conditions are never fun. It was also nice in that the walnut crop ripened a little slower than we would have liked.

While harvest went smoothly, prices have dropped and the Chandler variety came in about 35 percent less than average. Quality was really good, color was nice and light, while we managed to fend off the insects. I'm hopeful next year the crop will rebound and price will be back where it was last year.

Since harvest, we have continued to have warm temperatures and dry weather. This has given us a chance to get ahead on cleaning up the orchards, applying winter strip sprays and fall fertilizer programs. While I am ready for rain and it is much needed, I'm really happy to get a head start on the fall and winter work.

This last week, we finally got our first storm. The rain was much needed for our trees and to replenish our water supply, but also to help put out the fires in the state. The smoke we have had all summer and fall has been terrible. Thank you to everyone involved in helping to fight the fires in our great state. To all the families who have been affected by the fires, we keep you in our prayers and hope for a quick and easy recovery.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

In all my years of farming, I don't think I have been as frustrated as in this past season. Nature gave us a huge crop as far as quality and crop prices were decent. Now that it is all over, it looked pretty good. But getting the crops harvested was torture. My workers this year were inexperienced; equipment broke down and the dealer's mechanics couldn't figure out the problems. In 40 years, I have never worked so many hours.

But now we are back on schedule. My winter grain and ryegrass is planted. The wheat for grain and all the barley will be planted in the spring, so all is well.

We will be going through all the equipment's annual repairs and maintenance over the next couple months. With the large crop, the barns were pretty well stuffed with hay. But our October and November sales coming out of the barns was surprisingly brisk. I strive to sell all my hay before bringing in next year's crop.

Grape growers in this area fared very well, also. Despite the fall weather, the rains held off until after harvest was completed and the quality of the grapes was excellent.

Fall rains arrived for Thanksgiving, settling the dust, softening the dirt clods and moving us back to the shop.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

Harvest has finished up with everything on the west side of Stanislaus County. It sounds like overall, growers had good production this year. Almond yields in our area were up slightly from last year; walnut yields were close to the same; processing tomato yields on average were good; and most of the dry beans had a good crop on them.

After a small rain storm in early October, we were blessed with clear weather to finish harvest and get most of our ground work done in the open ground and a majority of our orchards pruned and buttoned up for the winter.

We are busy shredding brush and doing winter maintenance on our equipment right now. We have been getting some good rain the past few days, which will help to leach salts out of the root zones in all our fields and will be beneficial for those who are growing winter crops in our area, mostly wheat and garlic.

We are hoping for a wet winter and a good snowpack so that we have adequate surface water for 2019, and for improved trade deals to provide some stability for crop prices going forward.