From the Fields® - January 9, 2019

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Vintage 2018 was a recordbreaker in so many ways for the Sierra foothills winegrape industry, almost reminiscent in quality to that of vintage '97 in the past millennium.

First off, due to the adequate amounts of precipitation, the winegrape yields in our region were the highest ever recorded for most varietals, including zinfandel and barbera. With the lack of summer rains and open canopy management and integrated pest management, powdery mildew and economic injury from pests were not issues this growing season.

Much like vintage 1997, the small berries, along with natural low pH, enhanced dark colors across the board in red wines. The primary fermentation fermenting the sugars into alcohol finished up quite easily due to the high nutrition content from the grapes. The malolactic or secondary fermentation is taking its time due to the cooler seasonal temperatures.

The walnut harvest quantity was significantly smaller than average; however, the size of the walnuts was quite large. As with most olives throughout the state, here in the foothills we would estimate that all of crop was down 70 to 90 percent. There is still lots of speculation as to why this phenomenon occurred with the olives.

The annual pruning of vines has started in our region in preparation for harvest 2019. Wine sales and tourism through tasting rooms in our area are up, given the positive economy, quality and agritourism, agri-entertainment and agri-education.

Cheers to vintage 2019.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

It's raining here, so we are managing our corrals to help keep our dairy cows dry. Also, the rain has delaying the shaking of mummy nuts, which is a necessary task to prevent navel orangeworm damage in almonds. Our almond crop was good last year, but it is hard to gauge it because the trees are still young and growing.

Each year, the harvest gets better on these five- to six-year-old trees. From three to four, it was a pretty big jump in yield and from four to five it was another big jump. Planting the almonds really shows the importance of diversification.

We grow wheat right now for forage, and the wheat is looking perfect. We harvest the wheat as silage for our cows. We are doing winter maintenance and fortunately we have most of it done.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified grower

The produce deal the last couple of years all over the state has just been a disaster. There is just too much product being grown. The guys in Salinas let out the contracts and they hate to get caught short because they guarantee to their customers that they will have a certain amount. For the guys who are making those contracts, it is a lot easier to over-contract a little bit to be safe. But they have shot wide of the mark the last couple years and we've ended up with way too much product. And we've had really good weather.

And then there was the E. coli scare in the Yuma area and as a result there were a lot of contracts that were cut way back in the desert. A lot of guys who produce a lot of vegetables were cut back as much as half. So that, coupled with the Baja hurricanes that hit in Mexico and Yuma, impacted their crops.

We grow a lot of forage down here. Alfalfa prices are strong and look like they are going to stay strong. A lot of that is due not so much that the dairies are getting better because they are not.

The reason hay prices are so high is because of a Saudi Arabian buyer, which is taking a tremendous about of hay out of the West and actually supporting our price.

They have two hay barns in the Imperial Valley and they buy hay all over the West, compress the bales, and send the hay to Long Beach once a week. So, this has stabilized the hay prices.

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County turkey producer and walnut grower

We have experienced nice, cool weather that makes the walnut trees go into a good dormant state. Our walnuts are three-leaf, but we grafted them, so some of the trees are good size. We will have our first crop this year that we will shake with a stick, and have our first mechanical harvest in 2020.

Diversification is the right thing for me, but there are a lot of needs out there. Agriculture is cyclical, and we are going into the downward cycle and are just challenged with a lot of developments, such as our immigration policies, the minimum wage and a lot of other things.

We have our first sheep sale coming up in the next few weeks for our club lambs that are purchased by 4-H and FFA students.

On the turkey side, we keep seeing that proteins are challenging, especially meat proteins. There is a lot of protein on the market—chicken, turkey, pork. So, profitability has been pretty rough on the poultry industry and will probably continue throughout this year and the next couple. Feed costs are low, and that is a good sign, but I have a feeling that the soybean market that has been beat up will probably go to the other extreme if guys in the Midwest don't plant soybeans. With that, poultry companies are trying to survive, and as a contract grower, I get the ramifications of that.

The forecast for trade is that we will see a lot more consolidation in the poultry industry and a tougher trade situation going into the 2020s. I wish it was rosier, but there needs to be a balancing act between the animal protein and the plant protein. We all know where the nuts are, and I guess we are going to have some increase in older orchards and money being moved around before we have a better market.

But I think we will have a trade deal. China must come around. The only thing is that it is going to take awhile to get those markets back.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

Currently, most almond growers are trying to knock mummies off the trees to sanitize the orchards of navel orangeworm, a serious pest of almonds. Weather has not been conducive to using shakers to get a clean shake of less than two nuts left in trees.

Foggy, damp weather is what we need for shakers. Many growers have invested in putting rubber tracks on shakers so we can even shake in the rain. The more labor intensive way is by using labor to pole the nuts out of the trees.

We are currently pruning the prune orchards and trying to get the brush chopped up so we can spray fungicides to prevent infections of pruning cuts before it rains. Cytospora canker getting into prune trees by the pruning wounds has become a major issue in recent years.

It is felt that it has been on the increase ever since growers have stopped putting winter fungicides on and we are paying the price of losing scaffolds and eventual early tree death, thus the reason of going back to winter fungicide treatment, but with more environmentally friendly materials.

Winter cover crops have been planted in orchards. We plant these crops for disease control and to provide flowers for an alternate honeybee food source. The cover crops have germinated and are growing well, better than last year.

Most of the winter weed control has been completed and winter maintenance of equipment and irrigation systems is occurring now.

What is unknown is how the new political year is going to impact agriculture. We must stand together in unity to protect our viability into the future.