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From the Fields® - November 25, 2015

By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

Our summer melon crop in California and Arizona was one of the best crops we have ever had as far as production and quality. Much of that was because last winter was mild. The crop set very well. Also, the sweet corn we had was one of the best we've ever seen, for the very same reasons.

Temperatures were abnormally warm or above average in September and October. As a result, both our fall melons and sweet corn matured five days ahead of schedule, with very nice quality. Unfortunately, we did get hit with some rain in the Yuma area that impacted our melons for a short time.

The early vegetables are ahead of schedule because of the warm temperatures in September and October. The quality has been slightly below normal for the early vegetables. Typically, harvest starts in mid-November, but I saw romaine and head lettuce start on Nov. 2, which is a good 10 days ahead of schedule.

We have a fairly large citrus operation and we started our lemon harvest on schedule in mid-September. The lemons were of very nice quality, but there was not a heavy set. The lemon crop was off about 10 to 15 percent of normal. We actually harvested some grapefruit on the early side. We took advantage of a fall window where there was some demand, so we had some early grapefruit.

By Rob Miller, Del Norte County nursery producer

Del Norte County and southern Oregon is where 100 percent of the Easter lily bulbs are grown, and there are today four growers left, one of which being my company, Dahlstrom and Watt Bulb Farm Inc. The four of us produce Easter lily bulbs and ship them all over the U.S. and Canada to produce 100 percent of the Easter lily plants that are purchased in the stores at Eastertime.

In conjunction with my Easter lily business, I also have a greenhouse operation where we grow Easter-flowering plants. We're the second-largest supplier in the United States of hydrangea plants. We sell and ship hydrangea plants all over the U.S. that are forced in greenhouses for holiday and weekly use—plants you see in grocery stores and big-box stores. We also ship product to outdoor producers that produce and sell in-flower nursery hydrangea plants for planting in the yard.

We're in our cleaning and shipping season. We start to ship plants to greenhouses across the country in late September, early October. We're in the process of bringing hydrangea plants from the outdoor-growing locations in the greenhouse operation into the coolers, and then we have to take them out of the coolers and clean them—removing the leaves that drop, grading them on cane and flower count, and then packaging and shipping that product to the East Coast.

We bring hydrangea plants from the field into the cooler to artificially give them cold storage—make the plants think it's winter. Like other deciduous plants in the wintertime, they drop their leaves. So we fool the plant, depending upon when it needs to flower, into thinking it's winter, and it drops its leaves in the cooler. So you have to take them out of the cooler, clean up and throw away all of those deciduous leaves that fall off the hydrangea plant. Then we have to put them back in the cooler, because they require a certain amount of cold storage before they can be shipped to a customer to put into a greenhouse to force them with heat to flower for a certain holiday or a certain day. That's very much the same cold-storage process and time process as Easter lilies, which take six weeks in the cold. So do hydrangea plants.

Easter lilies are also in the coolers across the country and here. Starting next week, we will begin to ship the lilies that are in the coolers out to customers in the East.

By Jon Fadhl, Solano County olive oil producer

We cut back on our irrigation to be responsible tenants of the land and the water, and we cut back an additional 40 to 60 percent. We typically do a one-time-a-year flood irrigation to replenish the ground, which we opted not to do this year. So we have some pretty dry ground because of the water deficit. However, we turned out with the highest yields on our trees and the highest yield of oils from that production.

I don't know if it had to do with the water deficit, but we had higher than usual crop yield and oil yield, which is really surprising because where is the fruit getting the moisture in order to have a high oil content? Is it because the fruit is producing oil because it has a lack of water? Maybe the lack of water forced the fruit to produce a higher oil for weight.

We were about a month to a month and a half early. We started harvest around Oct. 10 and we finished a week later, around the 18th and 19th of October. And then we had this spectacular yield on top of that, so that's what's really odd. I have no explanation. Maybe that's a positive outlook with all this bleakness we're seeing with the water.

I don't know if I necessarily like the results of having super-dry ground. I think that hurts the overall structure of the land for growing. We're in a high clay background with our soil, so we get a lot of cracks and those cracks expose the root zones to air, which is a detriment to the tree, so I don't know what that damage is.

With the alternate-bearing nature of the olives, we planted our orchard over four years, so the trees are staggered so that we've got "on-off-on-off," because we wanted to have consistent production so we can have a consistent supply to our customers. Half of my orchard is "on" and half is "off" and vice versa every other year.

We're kind of in a holding pattern because of the rain. We need to get back into our fields so we can assess the trees from the harvest damage and spray copper. We finished harvest just before that first set of rain that we had. We've got to get in there and spray with copper to protect the trees from wound damage, but we have not done that yet. Typically, we would do that right after harvest.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

It is a spectacularly beautiful November day out here at this ranch that is situated against the north end of the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, approximately four miles east of Interstate 5. The trip up the Four Mile Road from the Maxwell Highway this morning was a visual feast. Not only were there the usual thousands of ducks and geese, but also several blacktail deer, a couple of wild ringneck pheasants, and a bald eagle adult and juvenile perched in a cottonwood tree alongside some flooded rice fields. These fields were just recently flooded with water made available as a result of significant conservation efforts by rice farmers, and no small amount of cooperation between the settlement-contractor water districts, the Bureau of Reclamation and the fisheries agencies.

Here at this ranch in the Colusa Basin, we depend primarily on appropriative rights to divert water as physically available from the Colusa Basin Drain and its tributaries. Again this year, we, like so many junior water rights holders throughout the state, received curtailment notices from the State Water Resources Control Board effective May 1. As such, we had to scramble to cobble together a combination of some limited groundwater resources along with some purchased water made available as a result of the efforts of the large Colusa Drain organization to which we belong.

While our percentage of planted acres was again substantially reduced in 2015, what rice we did get planted and raised to maturity produced very well, with excellent milling yields. We continue to have some challenges with respect to weed control, but made significant progress this year versus 2014.

Dealing with postharvest crop residue is particularly vexing for us, as we depend primarily upon postharvest tillage and the availability of water for re-flooding to decompose the straw. Here's hoping for a more normal rainfall and snowpack year for California. On a bright note, the weather pattern for this fall has been more encouraging than the season just past.

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