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From the Fields® - January 9, 2013

By Derek Borba, Fresno County diversified farmer

Growers are now well into the 2013 crop year after reaping the rewards of an above-average harvest in 2012. While almond and wheat yields were disappointing, pima cotton, tomatoes and garlic came in above budget yields.

Throughout the season, it was apparent almond yields were off their mark. Despite a strong pollination season with light insect and disease pressure, industry-wide yields were down about 10 percent to15 percent. Most attribute the slide to an alternate-bearing cycle thought to be present in almond trees. Lower yields have been offset by higher prices as buyers scurry to purchase their almond needs for 2013.

Cotton prices bottomed out in 2012, offsetting positive yield variances, which resulted in lower than budgeted revenues. Following record prices in 2011 driven by China’s demand, the market has now cooled and all eyes remain fixed on China.

This year is off to a good start. Precipitation and snowpacks are above average for this time of year, which could translate into a favorable water allocation for agriculture south of the delta.

Wheat and garlic planting windows were ideal and stands are consistent. Prices remain slightly above 2012 levels. Now, it’s time for farmers to make a crop.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

In agriculture, the one thing that you can guarantee is that every year is different. Last year at this time, we were irrigating our vineyards and orchards because of a lack of rain and cold weather. This year in San Joaquin County, it has been wet with mild temperatures. Most areas have received almost double the amount of normal rainfall. This has made it a challenge for pre-pruning with equipment in the vineyards. We will trade off pre-pruning for rainfall any day. Because of the timing of storms being spread out, it has reduced any serious problems with flooding.

As far as grape harvest, everything went well. The yields were up especially in zinfandel, prices were up and quality was exceptional. There were, towards the end of harvest, some issues at the wineries from having to maneuver fermenting tank space. The 2012 vintage will go down as one great for the grower, the winery, but most importantly, the consumer.

By Tim Chiala, Santa Clara County diversified grower

It is winter and we are wrapping up the year. This was a very average year. It wasn't off the charts yield-wise, but everything kind of came in when it was supposed to come in. So it was kind of a nice year, but it wasn't a huge year.

We planted strawberries in November that come off in the spring—March or April. There is an early Easter this year and we are hoping to get the strawberries started right around that Easter weekend. We planted garlic in November and that comes off in July. So those two crops are growing right now.

We had a nice little break of rain so we got a lot of our field prep work done.

We are getting ready to harvest our second block of leeks. We process our leeks. We take them and dice them up and send them to food companies to be used in soup. Winter is a great time for leeks. They get nice and big and they are very sweet. We also grow kale and that is really gaining in popularity.

We are doing our crop planning now, buying our seeds and getting ready to put them in the greenhouse and start all over again.

Labor costs went up big-time because of a shortage of workers and that impacted our bottom line. So it turned out to not be a great year because of that. But as far as crop production, it was pretty consistent.

The labor problem keeps going up and up and up. I think labor costs went up about 20 percent this past year because everyone was fighting for the same labor pool. In late August and early September, we had to walk over about $400,000 worth of string beans that we couldn't pick. We had to choose between string beans and jalapeños and the jalapeños had a lot more money invested up front, so we had to pick the jalapeños. And we had to disk the string beans in.

We are downsizing the hand-picked crops and trying to get pricing up on the other stuff. But I don't know whether or not it is going to work.

Labor is awful and it is only going to get worse. I don't know what we are going to do in the next few years. We will have to start relying more and more on machines, I guess.

By BJ Van Dam, San Bernardino County dairy producer

2012 was not a favorable year for the dairy industry. The fluctuating feed prices for grain and hay, combined with low milk prices, really made it hard to afford to keep going. We paid more to feed the cows than what we got paid for the milk.

Like many other dairies in our area and throughout California, we were forced to make serious cutbacks to our herd size in order to keep milking. We have cut our milking herd in half, but we were able to keep milking and we are praying for a more favorable year in 2013.

We were blessed with the gift of our son in 2012, and our dairy is something that we are looking forward to being able to share with him. We are hoping for a more positive response from the CDFA in regards to milk pricing and the dairy industry as a whole, as well as a higher supply of feed that would lead to better prices.

In 2013, it would be wonderful to ultimately see a profit from our milk, and I'm sure many other dairies in California feel the same way.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower

January is busy as we restock our customers with flowering plants after the Christmas holidays while also planting for spring sales. Many of our plants were coming in two to three weeks early due to the warmer November weather, making hitting holiday ad dates challenging.

However, with December and January's colder, less-than-average temperatures, everything is getting back to scheduled bloom dates.

The wet and cold weather we've been having has been ideal for promoting downy mildew. Fortunately, the new chemicals available for treating this disease provide us with improved prevention and control. Gone are the days when we would have to throw everything out in order to stop the cycle.

February through May are our key months for plant sales. We are furiously planting and spacing plants throughout the nursery to match growing schedules and meet the ready dates we created months ago. It's always a bit of a gamble. We are cautiously optimistic that the crop mix and numbers we planned for spring will match the demand. As we saw during the Christmas holidays, the delicate balance between supply, demand and price on certain crops can be easily disrupted when different players join the party. With any luck, improved consumer confidence will expand the market for everyone.

By Valeri Strachan-Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

Getting strong bee colonies for almonds in February will be much more difficult for the 2013 season. This is mostly due to the loss of the most effective chemical for varroa mite control and poor forage for bees because of drought conditions in most of the country.

We began supplementing our colonies in June 2012 due to pollen shortages. Normally, it's September when we see the pollen and nectar shortages. Beekeepers continue to battle maintaining strong colonies.

Recent news about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clearing the way for Section 18 emergency registration of the amitraz product Apivar may help U.S. beekeepers, but not in time for this season. However, California has already granted Section 18 approval for use of this material and we're hopeful 2013 will be a beneficial year for growers and beekeepers alike.




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