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From the Fields® - February 16, 2011

By Steve Bontadelli, Santa Cruz County vegetable grower

We finished harvesting our brussels sprouts about the end of January. Right now I am busy doing all the stuff that one puts off during the season that you say you will do when you have more time. So I am working on all the paperwork that has accumulated for some time. There is plenty of that to do.

We will start working the ground for the next crop after the rains end. That is usually late February or early March. We start planting in April. We continue to plant for some time so there will be vegetables available throughout the growing season.

We plant little plants. We provide seed to a Castroville nursery and they start them for us and then we transplant them into the ground. We get about 5 million little plants. The next harvest will start in July and then continue through January, weather permitting. Brussels sprouts like the cool, foggy weather we have here in the Santa Cruz area every summer.

This year the price was good, especially the fresh market price was very good. The crop itself was decent. Some growers did better than others, but overall it was a pretty decent yield. We had good weather until the end. As we were finishing the harvest, it rained the last three weeks. It rained pretty much all of January.

Right now I have a small crew working on equipment and getting things ready for next season. Once the crop is in the ground, I will have irrigators working and a few tractor drivers. Weeding is done mechanically.

We could use some more rain right now. February is often a wet month and we need rain to make things work out in summer when we need to irrigate.

By Ray Prock, Stanislaus County dairy farmer

This December's record rainfall was handled very well by the systems we have in place on the dairy to comply with environmental regulations. One of the most beneficial things we have done is to install a diversion system to the rain gutters on our barns, which allows us to keep this large amount of water separate from our lagoon system. In addition to the gutter diversion, we have constructed several tailwater storage ponds over the years that have afforded us more storage capabilities.

Cheese prices, which in turn have an influence on the milk price, are moving upward at a rapid pace; however, grain and alfalfa prices are also moving up for lack of inventory. The weather of late has been fabulous and the cow's production is a testament to that; however, we could use some more precipitation to augment the rainfall of late 2010 and early 2011.

I would also like to remind everyone that as farmers and ranchers if we are not telling our own stories someone else will tell them for us, the way they want to tell them. I urge everyone to take every chance possible to tell their story and to "build bridges, connecting communities."

By Stan Lester, Yolo County diversified grower

Weather wise, as you know, we have gone from wet, damp, cold weather to dry, windy and rather warm weather. One thing about the weather—it always keeps us on our toes.

We need more rain; however, the dry weather has allowed us to complete more work in the orchards. That work includes weed spraying, tree pruning, pruning/brush disposal, dead/sick tree removal as well as tree planting.

Speaking of rain, we were ahead of normal, but I believe by now we are normal or below normal rainfall. We have had a lot of wind lately, which not only dries the soil out but is also evaporating the fantastic snowpack in the mountains. I sure hope we get more rain sooner than later, so as not to interfere with tree bloom and pollination as well as other jobs we need to get done when the time comes.

I recently checked the amount of hours of dormancy we have had. It looks like we are hovering around 700 hours, which is OK for almonds but is shy of what we need for other stone fruit and walnuts. This may mean we will have a scattered bloom when it comes.

We were pretty pleased with last year's harvest of fruit and walnuts. The cool spring and summer weather delayed virtually every crop, but it also made for pretty good quality. The rains during walnut harvest were a bit vexing as well as a challenge, but we were rewarded with overall good quantity, quality, as well as good prices.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified farmer

We are doing some pre-irrigating in the fields in preparation for cotton. We have some onions that we are growing and we are doing some work in those. The cereal grains are growing and we've done some weed control work. We're repairing equipment. We are just getting ready to get going as soon as the weather breaks sometime in March.

Our wheat looks fine. For the most part we had it up and growing before we had all that excessive moisture in December. We also have some new season hay that is coming along just fine. So we really didn't suffer any negative impact from the heavy rainfall that we had in December.

As far as cotton, we weren't down as much last year as some of my neighbors, but we are going to be planting a couple hundred acres more than last year. Prices are off the charts, very good pricing opportunities and if you look at the futures market it looks very good for 2012 and 2013 as well. Right now cotton looks very good. It was just two years ago when the prices were so low, so this has been a significant increase.

But the prices for other commodities are also very good, so we have choices. Our oldest pistachios are in their 12th year. We got good production last year and the prices were fairly good as well.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County lemon grower

We need rain. We've quit picking lemons, because without much rain in January the fruit is not sizing. We've curtailed lemon picking and are letting them grow on the tree. We had some really severe Santa Ana winds and those winds blew some of the lemons off the tree. That is pretty tough because there is nothing you can do with those lemons. You can't even sell them to the juice market.

The avocados seem to take the wind better than the lemon trees. We have not started picking avocados and probably won't for a few more weeks. We want to let the price get a little bit higher before we start. We are kind of in an in-between space right now. We probably will start picking avocados about the end of March.

All of the avocados are legal to pick. The fruit is high enough in oil now to pass the minimums. There is a lot of Mexican fruit and Chilean fruit still in the marketplace. We are waiting to see what happens there. There isn't much California fruit in the grocery stores right now.

The crop is very small. Since we don't have a big crop, we are going to try do as much as we can to maximize our picking during a strong price time. We will try to maximize the fruit that we have for our returns. The avocados will increase in size if left on the tree. The longer you let it stay on the tree, the larger it will get. Bigger fruit will fill the box quicker so that is good.

We sure could use more rain. We are irrigating and we are into a full blown irrigation almost as if it were summertime. The temperatures are warm. We had readings in the 80s and the Santa Ana winds were very dry. So that really pulls the moisture out of the ground and the trees are dry. All you can do is run the water.

The long-term forecast is pretty rough. It is funny because we got such good rains in December. We hope March will be a better month. If you get past March we don't really get much significant rain. We might have a storm or two but they won't produce much rain. February and March are about the end of it.

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