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From the Fields® - November 30, 2011

By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

As the last load of rice is delivered and the remaining walnuts are swept up across Butte County, harvest is just beginning for oil olives. On our farm, the week before Thanksgiving has traditionally been first test harvest to see where we are as far as oil yields and taste.

It is an extremely thin year for olives. I've even read reports of olive oil companies not even bothering to harvest and warning their customers that there will be no new oil for 2012. Certainly, there's plenty to be thankful for this year on the farm, as things are not that bleak.

As with everything this year, olive ripening seems to be behind by two to three weeks, resulting in lower oil yields in pressing and a much more "robust" flavor compared to this time last year. Our plan now is to hold off additional harvesting until the middle of December. We generally like to harvest the majority of our olives in January, but with such limited amount on the trees we will be a little more anxious to prevent any loss to winter storms with high winds. The first few storms predicted in our area never materialized, but temperatures are approaching the low 30s at night. A steady rainfall is not a concern, but we will hold our breath that high winds hold off for a few more weeks.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County diversified grower

We finished grape harvest about the third week of October, so timing-wise it was about the same as last year. We just finished our pruning of the cherries and we planted some cover crops in the vineyards. It is a pretty quiet time of year, which is nice, but now we have to deal with all the political challenges. Right now in our county, the board of supervisors is meeting regarding funding of the Williamson Act and what they are going to do. So we have to deal with those sorts of things.

About the second or third week of December, we will start pruning the grapevines, which is just around the corner. We are looking forward to some more rain.

Overall, the gross income was actually down from the year before. Even though the grape prices were up, because a lot of the yield was down for a lot of varieties the higher prices didn't make up for the lower yields. And the cherries were terrible because of all of the rain right before harvest. The dry beans seemed to be OK.

Being a farmer, you always look forward to the next year. I was hoping it would be better than last year because of the increase in prices for winegrapes, but the production was too erratic in some blocks. In talking with other growers, they are saying the same thing. Being a farmer, you are always dealing with Mother Nature and you never know what she is going to bring.

By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County apple and timber producer

We grow organic apples in the Sierra foothills—between 2,500 feet and 4,000 feet—which makes us a lot later than the valley apples. Farming in the foothills has a different set of challenges than growing in the valley. This year our apples are very late. But a later crop doesn't necessarily give us a market advantage. It just requires a different approach.

One of the things we do in the foothills that's different is more direct marketing to consumers and we create value-added products. We put a lot of our fruit into hard apple cider and apple brandy.

On the timber side, we're going to be doing some cleanup of dying and diseased trees under the cleanup exemption, but it's a very small operation. I'm currently doing some forestry thinning for some properties that have received EQIP (federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program) funding.

Some timber operators in our area were still out in the woods logging until just before Thanksgiving.

I'd like to see another month of dry weather so I can do some orchard thinning and finish up the logging. After that, I'm hoping for a winter break so I can make more cider and brandy and not work on the weekends.

We're hoping for a peaceful holiday.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery operator

To brighten their homes for the holidays, consumers traditionally plant flowers outdoors early in November, followed by lastminute indoor cut flower or flowering plant purchases for interior accents. This year saw a sluggish start for the Thanksgiving decorating season, most likely due to unusual weather patterns and a listless economy. For those of us who ship out of state, we can see the direct impact the extended drought in Texas and early snow in Colorado had on area garden centers. Locally, rainy weekends put a damper on key selling days in home improvement and garden centers. We're hoping for a last-minute rush as the realization of how close the holidays are sinks in.

The cooler summer caused many of the fall crops to come in later than planned. A delay of even a week or two on holiday plants can make the difference between a successful sale and a larger dump pile. Think of it this way: Would you buy an orange flowering plant the day after Thanksgiving?

We continue to struggle with the availability and high price of climate-control trucks to move our product out of state. Although the competition from the produce loads has abated somewhat, we are now competing head to head with Christmas trees loads moving to the East Coast. Bah humbug!

By John Duarte, Stanislaus County nursery producer and winegrape grower

At our nursery, for 2012 deliveries we are either sold out or very close to being sold out in all of our major crops. Our citrus is sold out for 2012, almonds are close to being sold out in most rootstocks, pistachios are sold out, walnuts are sold out and the grapevines are getting very close to being sold out for 2012 deliveries.

So now we are getting ready to move into 2013 sales in almost all of our capacities, which is an experience we haven't had in over a decade. We are expanding and trying to make as much product as we can right now. We are going to stop having sales meetings and start having production meetings. It is a good situation. Growers in the past 10 years expected that they could just pick up their phone and call their nursery and get what they need. But things have changed and if they have planting plans now, they really need to get their arms around the nursery stock supply situation.

The winegrape year wrapped up well. It was a year that was very cool and it set up to be a difficult harvest. At the end of the day, a crop came in that was slightly lighter than average in some varieties. There were no bumper crops in our experience, but the prices were very solid and where we lost a little bit in volume we made it up in better prices than we have seen in years. Our Lodi vineyards came in with a slightly below-average crop, but solid prices from the wineries. Up in my El Dorado County vineyard in Georgetown, I lost some of the grapes to the early rains, but the cabernet sauvignon, petit bordeau and some of the more resilient varieties that made it through the rains came in with very good crops and a very good market. It was a mixed viticultural year, but a pretty good financial year.

There are a lot of good commodity prices and the low exchange rate for the U.S. dollar helps with exports, plus there are the low interest rates for farmers who want to plant. Growers who have good cash flow and are creditworthy can get money fairly cheaply right now. The biggest challenge for our customers is finding ag land with water. The environmental restrictions such as the Endangered Species Act critical habitat overlay is really constraining agriculture right now.




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