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From the Fields® - March 2, 2011

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We've been having some really cold weather, a little colder than normal for February. Things are tight and the vines aren't starting to bleed yet. We have a good month and a half left to go with our pruning. The reason we have so long is that we will wrap up the pruning in the valley in the next three to four weeks and then we'll be heading up to the foothills to do that pruning. We have bud break later up there. I think bud break in the valley won't happen until toward the end of March because it has been so cold.

From an equipment perspective, our tractors are all serviced and ready for spring. This time of year if we get four days of north wind, we can be out tilling ground, so we are ready for it when it happens. We are a vineyard development company so we have some vineyards lined up to plant this spring. We are in every aspect of the business.

We just finished all of our weed spraying this week. That is all done. As soon as we are done with pruning, we will begin tying vines. We've started doing a little bit right now.

It is a busy time, but it is simple because we are only doing one or two things right now. In the spring and summer we are doing all kinds of different things at the same time. This is a nice time of year for us.

We grow all types of grapes and own about 400 acres, but we farm through various capacities about 10,000 acres. Right now, frost and cold weather are beneficial for us as it keeps the vines dormant a little bit later into the year and that gives us protection later in the year for frost.

By Nicole Montna Van Vleck, Sutter County rice grower

Last week, as part of the California Rice Commission delegation, I traveled to Washington D.C. to join the USA Rice Federation's Government Affairs Conference. As we are just currently draining our rice fields in preparation for our spring work, it is a slow time for rice farmers, making it the ideal time to meet with all our local congressmen and congresswomen regardless of party affiliation.

As this was my first trip to Washington, D.C. as a member of the California Rice Commission delegation, I learned a lot from those members of our group who have been going each and every year. We discussed general agricultural issues such as job creation, trade issues, the estate tax and the regulatory climate.

We also spoke of the specific rice issues, such as the habitat value that California rice lands provides to 7-10 million wintering waterfowl, which is worth $1.5 billion, if those temporary wetlands had to be replaced.

We also mentioned how the rice lands in the Sacramento Valley provide 57 percent of the food that the winter waterfowl use while migrating down the Pacific Flyway each year.

We appealed to many of the congressional members when discussing the wonderful cuisine we provide, reminding them that all the sushi eaten in the U.S. is made with California rice.

By Mike Vereschagin, Tehama County diversified grower

We are all watching the weather right now. It's like a network of growers—we call our neighbors and report temperatures to each other almost every night, reporting temperatures in different locations. We compare that against the frost forecast and several mornings water has been run for frost control. We haven't been getting very much sleep lately.

Depending on the variety, the almonds are from full bloom to a little bit past full bloom now. If the weather holds there is potential for the crop. We all wish we had more hours for pollination. The early part of this week (Feb. 21-23) we had some decent bee activity. However, the week before it was pretty skimpy or non-existent.

There is a little bit of concern on the early varieties about whether we had enough pollination time, but it is too early to tell yet. The consensus of most people is that we wish we had more hours of bee flight activity. It has been so cold here it is not the optimum.

The prune plums are still pretty tight. There is nothing to worry about at this point in the game. They are still dormant. There are still a few weeks away before there is any activity on the prunes. The cold weather, if it continues, will slow down bud development on the prune plums. Usually by now you have a little bit of swelling on the buds, but I really don't see any signs of it yet.

Right now it is the almonds that we are concerned about. As each day goes on, as the bloom develops, the sensitivity to frost increases because in the later stages of development they can handle even less frost than early on in the bud development.

As we move on, the potential for damage increases because the nuts are more sensitive to freezing conditions. It comes down to how long, as well as how cold the temperatures go. The longer it is cold the greater the chance for frost damage.

After the cold weather it can take time before the damage is apparent. Sometimes you can see it the next day, other times it may take a couple days or longer. The final impact you won't know for awhile. Most growers are prepared to be out nights turning on water.

With the wet weather there is a lot of fungicide spraying going on also. Planes and helicopters have been busy for the last several days applying sprays trying to beat the next storm. With the wet weather we had last week, a lot of fields have just started to dry up so you can't cover everything with a ground rig in a couple days time.

There is a combination of flying and ground rigs going on right now. This is a busy time of the year. It's the start of the new crop year so you have to do what you can to protect your crop. If you lose it now you've lost the whole year.

Long-range weather forecasts project this as the year of the frost. Long range it is supposed to be a cold spring and more frost can be expected over the next several weeks. We hope they are wrong, but we must be prepared.

By Nicholas Miller, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

Looking back on the 2010 harvest, it was probably the most difficult that I've seen. After such a long cool summer, we had some very uncharacteristic heat spikes and rain events which made timing the picks very difficult.

Fortunately we are through it and 2011 brings a fresh start. Not only did it bring the birth of my first son, Ladd Dual Miller, but also a tremendous amount of rain for our area.

In Santa Maria we have 19 inches and counting through February where our annual average is in the low teens. With the amount of rain we've seen and the cold February, we have some people joking about snow.

Bud break looks to be an end-of-February event, barely waiting for us to finish pruning and will no doubt lead to a long frost patrol season given the cool weather.

On the avocado front, we saw a very good year in 2010, probably the best year I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the outlook for 2011 doesn't look quite as good with what looks like a much lighter crop.

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