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From the Fields® - October 8, 2014

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We are currently in our eighth cutting of alfalfa.  Annual yield was about equal to last year, while demand has increased for high quality dairy and retail hay because they appear to be in short supply. A lot of rain-damaged alfalfa has flooded the market because of considerable rain we received in September. Some areas of the Palo Verde Valley received two times their annual rainfall during the month of September. New alfalfa plantings will begin this month.

The cotton crop has seen uncharacteristically low pressure from the brown stinkbug this season. Last year at this time, I was convinced the whitefly, brown stinkbug and lygus would be impossible to control. We lost 30 percent of our yields last year to the incredible bug pressure. Although control has been challenging, the overall pressure level has been manageable. 

I anticipate beginning to pick our crop by mid-November. I don't foresee a large increase in yields, but until it's picked, it's difficult to speculate. With the cotton futures dropping 30 percent since April, it's hard to get excited about planting cotton next year. 

We begin planting garlic the second week of October. 


By Kathye Rietkerk, San Bernardino County greenhouse producer

Our poinsettia crop is coming along great. We managed to survive quite a remarkable heat wave—longer than usual and hotter than normal. Outside, not in the nurseries, it was between 107 and 111 degrees for days and days, which is highly unusual.

We've never had that kind of heat on the poinsettias before, so we weren't sure how they would tolerate it. We kept them hydrated and they came through. We didn't have any damage and we're quite pleased.

We rely on municipal water and our rates have gone up substantially. They have implemented conservation measures similar to other areas and we follow those measures. There aren't water use restrictions or water delivery cutbacks, at least not yet.

In the early 1990s we installed water conservation equipment and have been steadily installing and upgrading technology throughout the nursery. We've spent tens of thousands of dollars on water conservation technology over the years. There's not much left to do.

If the amount of water we get is cut back, then we'll have to cut back production and retire nurseries. There's a point where you can't become any more water efficient. That's a real concern.

We're not confident about the future. If we don't get rain and if we can't get water conveyed through the state and federal water projects to Southern California, I don't know what will happen. Already, 50 percent of our water for recharge basins has been taken away for the Santa Ana sucker fish and the area for the species' habitat has been doubled, without providing scientific justification.

We're worried. It's very difficult to predict the sustainability of the water supply and the outlook for our business, and those of others in agriculture, because we all depend on a reliable water supply.


By Dave Roberti, Plumas County rancher

Like everywhere, water is a big issue. Water has been in short supply for most of the growers. The wells are being pumped pretty hard and surface water is very limited. This has reduced some of the crop yields.

Rain has made it a really difficult year for us, with untimely thunderstorms that damaged a lot of hay. As far as hay goes, everyone is pretty much wrapped up for the year. A few people have a little bit left. It has been a mediocre year for the most part; not great, but not horrible. Fortunately, prices are high and that helps to cover the costs. We typically get three cuttings. Most of our hay is dairy quality and it goes to Modesto- and Turlock-area dairies.

For the beef side of things, pastures are short because of the drought. The ranges are not in good condition, but we are surviving. Everyone is praying for early rains this fall to get some feed going. 

The King fire has been pushing a lot of smoke into our area, making air quality very poor with visibility down to a half mile. The smoke has been a real problem with growing issues, because when you don't have the sun, things don't grow. 


By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay grower

We're an area that heavily relies on snowpack to supply our groundwater basins, but we had between 0 and 8 percent of our snowpack last winter, which set the stage for the start of our crop year. Many people's wells went dry or they had issues with them. But, some parts of the aquifer remained at almost normal levels. It's hard to understand.

We got through this year, but with our third hay cutting we were heavily impacted by smoke from numerous wildfires, with acres burned around us at more than a couple hundred thousand. All that smoke prevented the hay from drying as quickly as it needs and that affected quality.

If hay sits in the field too long, that's detrimental to price, but this year demand has been strong, so we'll have to see how we come out. But the smoke slowed everything down and the last cutting was lighter than normal. It's always a quantity/quality trade-off, but it was more extreme this year.

This year, there are a number of sunflower acres grown for seed in Scott Valley. I'm involved with harvesting—on my farm and neighboring farms—and we've been cutting and shipping the crop out for cleaning and processing.

The crop was incredibly healthy, and we're optimistic about prices, but with the dry conditions and hot temperatures, the early planted male plants were slower to germinate and pollination timing was off. Our yield was lower than expected.

In coming weeks, we hope for fall rain to allow us to do some tillage and prepare fields for winter planting of grain crops. We like to have a winter crop planted by Halloween, so we need to see 2 to 3 inches of rain between now and then. 

We'll also be securing things and getting ready for the winter. I'm always watching the weather, because of farming and because I'm a private pilot. Weather predictions keep lessening El Niño and now show us right on the cusp of the effect.  We'll have to see what develops with this winter's snow and rain.



By Joe Martinez, Yolo County nut producer

We've wrapped up almond harvest. It came very early, at least two to three weeks early.  Most growers in our area experienced lighter crops than last year. It may be due to drought or lack of winter chill. There isn't a clear answer. Maybe it's lack of deep moisture. There's no one discernible factor, but the crop is down statewide.

Now, we're shifting to the walnut harvest. I hope the rain we had about a week ago will help with hull split and the harvest progression. It's hard to judge walnut yields by looking at the trees, but I think it's a good crop, not a bumper crop.

Fortunately, because we're  looking at shorter crops, prices are strong. Some farmers are down 10 percent; others say they're down 40 percent. It's all over the board. But in some cases, prices can make up for the shortfall in yield.

The agriculture wells in our county are barely hanging on. We got through to the end of the irrigation season this year, but a lot of farmers were lowering bowls and many are pumping sand. My personal well experienced a big drop in yield.

All we can do is pray for rain. We need above-average rainfall to replenish the aquifer. If we have another dry year, I don't think wells in our area will hold up. 

We're just trying to get through harvest now. Then we'll shift to pruning and planting new trees—normal fall chores. The only thing I can do now is hope our wells hold out and we can keep our trees alive. Really, there's nothing else I can do. The truth is, we're in big trouble.


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