From the Fields® - February 6, 2019

By Tom Chandler, Fresno County diversified grower

This week, we have begun fertilizing our almonds with nitrogen for the first time this year. Almond bloom should occur soon, but as yet we have not seen any signs of it. We are also just starting to flail mow last year's almonds that we knocked down on the ground and put in a windrow. We do that in order to destroy any navel orangeworm larvae that can overwinter in our leftover almonds in the field.

We are trying to plant a new almond block, but the rains have pushed that back at least another week or so because the field is too wet to get equipment in to prepare the field.

We are in the middle of picking our mandarin citrus and yields have been very good for us and for the whole citrus industry in our area. We are hoping that we do not get delayed too much from harvesting this year's crop and impact next year's crop by having hand pickers in the field while the next year's bloom is out. So far, we have not had to fight the frost much this year on our citrus because the weather has been so mild.

Outside of the activity in the citrus and almonds, everything else here is still dormant. All of our vineyard and tree fruit pruning has been completed.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Labor costs keep going up. We have to deal with the overtime and the hours-of-work rules. I had a meeting this month to go over that with all my employees and they weren't very happy about it because it limits the hours they can work before overtime kicks in to 55 hours. And for the year following it is 50 hours, and then 45 hours and 40. And with that the minimum wage goes up a dollar every time.

Now that Assembly Bill 1066 is hitting home, my employees aren't very happy about it and we will have to see how it plays out in the next couple months and down the road. In certain circumstances, we have to pay overtime because we have to get some things done, so we need to absorb those costs. Then add to that the shortage of people who want to go out there and work in agriculture because they have other options for employment such as construction. It is very difficult to find experienced employees.

We are also looking at mechanization, but that involves spending money on equipment, so we need to figure out how that is going to work out.

Our winegrape crop last year was good. Every variety was a little bit different; some were average, and some were a little better than average. Prices were OK for contracted grapes, but there were some problems selling grapes on the open market.

By Celeste Alonzo, Riverside County vegetable grower

The beginning of 2019 started off very chilly for the Coachella Valley. We had very cold weather that did affect a couple crops. The December/January frost set our potatoes back a bit, but they are now growing more vigorously with the warmer weather.

We planted early corn in mid-December and dodged a bullet with the frost. Green beans and bell peppers are growing and doing fine with the warm weather.

We are done with planting and will be starting harvest at the end of March/beginning of April. The corn harvested in April is the corn we will be selling at Coachella and Stagecoach.

By Luke Wenger , Stanislaus County orchardist

Even though it is winter, there is plenty of work that needs to be done. I just returned from two weeks in Thailand and now have a long checklist of projects that need to get completed. Right now, we are trying to get some pre-emergent weed sprays on ahead of the storms that are on the way. These sprays will help us get ahead of the weeds during the coming season.

We have been very active pruning the walnuts, trying to get them ready. We are also finishing up pruning the almonds. With the almonds, we are seeing bud swell and it looks like we will be seeing the first bloom in a few weeks. We just got bees delivered last week, so we are getting them out in the field and ready because before we know it we will be in full bloom. Hopefully the weather holds, and we get nice weather during the bloom season so the bees can get out there and do a good job.

Other than that, we are trying to get maintenance done on our equipment.

We have some oats that we have been able to get some weed sprays on in between the storms. We don't have any oats of our own this year, but we have been doing some custom spraying for area dairy producers. Some of the oats will go to green chop and some of it will be used for hay.

With the custom pruning and custom spraying, we don't have a shortage of things to do; It is just a matter of getting some pretty good rainfall, so we can start crossing things off the list.

Getting the deep moisture from these storms really helps. We've noticed the difference in the health of the trees after the drought. And now we are at a point where we would like the rain to stop. We have enough moisture here and we would rather see all that moisture stay up in the Sierra to get that snowpack built up even more. It would be nice if the rain stops so we can get a little bit ahead in the fields, but it looks like we will be getting some more.

Last year was not too bad a season. We had a hot summer, but we had really good weather during harvest and the only bummer was that this was a very bad year for prices. The almond prices were a little better than we thought, but the walnut prices were disastrous. The walnut harvest was a little better than the previous year, but the price made it a worse year overall. Those tariffs really hit us hard and we didn't get what we thought we would get with the crop that we had. Hopefully things get sorted out because it didn't help us. It was a rough year; a lot of buyers didn't even want to quote prices.

Oh well, that's farming.

By Lindsey Mebane, Kern County potato and carrot grower

Currently at Tasteful Selections, we are harvesting our fall potatoes in both Kern and Riverside counties. The fall crop is the most challenging due to severe temperature changes. We plant in hot conditions and need to have the crop out of the growing phase before we get a killing frost.

Our winter crop in Imperial County has experienced freezing temperatures that will delay maturity. Our team was able to mitigate some of the risk by adjusting planting dates, so immature plants were not exposed to dangerously cold temperatures. In some fields, the frost helped by killing the potatoes, keeping them within the correct size profile.

Our planting and harvesting teams in Kern County are experiencing the fall harvest in addition to planting the spring crop, our largest of the year. It is critical to get this crop to maturity and harvested before we experience triple-digit heat.

Along with all the potato activity, the planting of our spring carrot crop was just completed. At the same time, we are also seeing fall carrots coming out of the ground with promising yields and quality.

We are very fortunate to have varying seasonal temperatures throughout the state that allow us to supply fresh potatoes to our customers year-round. We look forward to 2019.