From the Fields® - February 20, 2019

By Nick Short, Stanislaus County almond and walnut grower

Here in the Central Valley, we have been experiencing a very wet weather pattern, as is most of California. It has made for a very dynamic start to the year.

We have wrapped up pruning in the almonds and some of the local walnut farmers are finishing theirs. We all did as much mummy shaking as we could to help mitigate some of the navel orangeworm pressure, but had to stop as the buds on the trees were starting to swell.

We are applying our weed sprays as the weather will allow us to and gearing up for the first round of bloom spray. Most almond trees around us are just starting to show flowers. Here in the next week or two we should see a lot more opening up. Overall, we are hopeful that things set in as good as they are looking now so we can have another successful year.

We are all very thankful for the wet weather and definitely hopeful that the snow sets us up to have full reservoirs by the end of the wet season.

With all the wet weather, it has been challenging to complete all our field tasks. However, we have been utilizing the time handling any of our projects that we have been putting off throughout the year. We have been spending a lot of time in the shop, going through all the harvest equipment and completing all of our maintenance to freshen up the machines.

By Joe Ferrari, San Joaquin County nut and cherry grower

We are currently waiting in eager anticipation for the recent heavy rains to pass as we spend our time on mechanical and maintenance work in the shop. Field tasks are stacking up in wet orchards. Our bud-stimulating sprays have already been applied in the cherries, and as we witness the almond bloom, it becomes ever more apparent that the growing season is quickly gaining momentum.

Cherry bloom in Linden is projected for the early varieties to begin during the late second or early third week of March. The walnuts will continue to lie dormant until April—and it is exciting that we will now have plant antibiotics at our disposal to combat against blight resistance in the early varieties like Vinas, shortly after dormancy is broken.

It's also the season to attend water quality coalition nitrogen-management courses and update beginning-of-year records for compliance with what seems a never-ending onslaught of federal and state laws and regulations and private food safety plan requirements. I am now up to more than 100 binders in total—an additional seven alone separately dedicated to just the Food Safety Modernization Act regulations this year (slated to later substantially increase).

This is another reason I am looking forward to the initiation of the 2019 policy-making process at the upcoming CFBF Leaders Conference—as our Issue Advisory Committees will have an opportunity to assess just how serious of a problem this recordkeeping is becoming.

By Peter Bauer, Mentocino County beef producer

The winter season is well underway up here on the North Coast. All of our 2018 calves have been sold, short of a few stray that we missed this fall when we gathered. I should catch up with most of them this spring when I get back on my horse.

The prices were decent for the ones I sold. I still daydream about the 2015 prices, but we have officially shifted gear into winter mode. The trucks and tractors and assorted machines are working their way through the shop. It appears that it is going to be the year of the transmission for me; I will have four completed by this spring.

So far, I would say that the weather has been really good. We have had some rain and sun, both enabling the grass to get a pretty good start. I would like to see more snow in the higher elevations. Most importantly, I would like to see the snow stay up there for a while. I have watched the mountaintops turn white and then turn back to summer colors and then turn white again. They really need to turn white and stay white for the duration of the season.

My calving season is off to a good start. I calve a little earlier than some, but it seems to work for me. I have my first-calf heifers in close where I can watch them. I am working on getting good body condition on next year's first-calf heifers, so they are in good shape for breeding this spring.

I have capitalized on the wet weather to do a lot of custom brush mastication with my excavator and mower head. One nice thing about California, there is a never-ending supply of brush to chop. All in all, 2019 is off to a decent start.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This weather is fantastic as I head to the Sierra for some skiing. The other day we received 6 feet of snow overnight. But once things dry out, skiing comes to a screeching halt as the business of farming takes priority once again.

We are making great progress on pruning; we are probably ahead of a normal pace. We will start tying vines within the next 30 days. Weed spraying is done, and we will start berm sweeping soon and getting all of our equipment ready for spring. We are starting to wind down our winter activities and getting ready for spring. Once things dry out, we will be very busy.

We are buying more equipment for mechanization to reduce our dependence on labor. We are setting up things in the shop to do that. We did pretty well with labor this winter, better than last year on pruning. But the real test is when cherries come into season and then there is some immense competition for labor among crops, as there is a lot of activity going on at the same time.

The vines are still dormant but are starting to wake up. This is a little later than normal, but we had 10 days of really cold temperatures, which slowed things down. Our rainfall is well above average and it has been pretty nice with timing. We would get a really big rain event, followed by a week of dry weather, so up until now the ground was able to take it all in. Now, we are starting to see some ponding and some of the creeks are overflowing.

By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

This week's rainstorm dumped over 7 inches on my farm in Winters. Roads and fields are inundated and people are clearing drains and culverts. I'm always amazed at the short memory people have. New landowners build structures or plant new orchards in low-lying areas and seem surprised when their investment is imperiled. A little more inquiry before buying would help avoid disappointment and hardship later.

Big storms like this are a good time to drive the countryside to see which fields typically flood. Old-time farmers in the area are always a good source of information, as they have long memories. In recent years, many outside investors planted new almond orchards here in Yolo and Solano counties, on land that locals would have avoided. Almond bloom is just around the corner and these fields need to be drained quickly or Phytophthora root rot will take hold.

Fortunately, walnuts and prunes bloom later and can withstand some flooding at this time. And it's always nice to get enough winter rain to drive down any salts. Orchards always seem to look more lush and healthy after a winter of steady rains. On the other hand, because of weather and labor availability, it's been difficult getting skilled pruning crews in my prune orchards; the job takes longer each year and conflicts with getting strip sprays down. But we'll get there.

It seems we've had a sufficient amount of chilling, so I'm optimistic that the trees will go into bloom season healthy and ready to go.