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From the Fields® - June 3, 2020

By John Moore, Kern County farmer

In Arvin at Moore Farms and White Wolf Potato Co., we are in the middle of the potato harvest. Yields are looking good this year. Early drought conditions enabled White Wolf Potato to get a great stand and we avoided any frost damage early in the season. High tuber counts and additional size, plus an increase in demand for staple foods, including potato chips, is penciling out to be a good year for the potato market as far as chippers and some table-potato varieties.

Pistachios are similar to other areas in that the bloom was spotty this year. The crop sizing on the tree is variable.

The almond crop looks average. We can expect a large production year as additional trees come into production throughout the state. It should be big numbers on the almond front.

We’re planting some new citrus at the top of our ranch. With warmer temperatures, we feel the new variety that we are planting has good potential and should be able to reach various markets, both domestic and export.

We are planning on harvesting our spring carrots in a week. From there, we’ll prep ground and get ready for fall carrots, hoping for some milder temperatures down here in the valley.

By Rob Miller, Del Norte County nursery producer

For the Easter lily production, we’re in the process of doing our general summer work—weeding, spraying, pest control in the field. We grow potted plants to sell at Easter. With the coronavirus three weeks before Easter, probably 60% to 70% of what we had ready to ship was canceled. Like a lot of nurseries nationwide that grow indoor plants for Easter and those in the cut-flower business, there were massive cancellations, not a lot of sales and a lot of products thrown away. Easter was a very big negative. I think everybody’s trying to figure out how to survive.

Interestingly, for outdoor nursery products, it’s been an absolute rat race to try to keep up. The demand has been phenomenal. The cut-flower game and the indoor-plant game have rebounded some. It was better for Mother’s Day, but Easter was almost a total loss.

We got some (Paycheck Protection Program) loans, so that’s helped. But the PPP didn’t replace the decrease in income. We’ve not had to lay off any employees because in our greenhouse business, we have a lot of outdoor product that we’re shipping right now. We’re also in the process of propagating and starting dormant hydrangea plants that are shipped to customers in the East in greenhouses for December, January, February, March next year. We hope there’s orders because if there are not orders for what we’re spending the money on now, we could be gone.

Easter lilies take three to four years to produce a saleable crop. We have a crop in the ground now to sell this fall. Today, I honestly can’t tell you what could be sold this fall. If I only sell 50% of what I’m growing, I probably won’t be around another year. I’m trying to figure out how to get through this one crop loss. We’ve been in business for more than 60 years, and we’ll see if we can survive another one.

By Aaron Lange, San Joaquin winegrape grower

Crop levels in Lodi look to be about average in the winegrapes, although we did have a potent rainstorm followed by a few very hot days, which could affect set in late-blooming varietals.

Access to skilled labor for vineyards continues to steadily decline, and the cost of hand-labor work in vineyards is becoming astronomical. The grape market is a little more active than last year, which is great, but pricing is well below sustainable levels. By the end of summer, I expect about 5,000 acres or so to have been removed from our district since 2019 harvest, with most converting to non-grape crops or fallowing.

On the bright side, we can drink California wine and make our voice heard with business/grower advocacy groups like the California Association of Winegrape Growers or Farm Bureau.

By Pete Verburg, Stanislaus County dairy farmer

At the beginning of the pandemic, the first thing my processor did was cut off our bonus program (for quality milk). The next problem was the creamery was full of milk and we were having a heck of a time getting it picked up, because the plant was completely flooded with milk because sales were gone.

I expected my processor to tell me to cut back production by 10% or 20%. I alerted my nutritionist and said, "If we have to cut back, we're going to have to dry cows early and figure out a ration where we get a little less production." I didn't have to do that because now the creamery is screaming for milk. I know the plant was out of milk again last week.

Feed-wise, corn (prices) came off, but some protein feeds have gone up. On what we grow, we had a disappointing wheat crop this year because the whole month of February, we never got one drop of rain. Because water (from the irrigation district) didn't go in the ditch until March 28, we had a stunted wheat crop, which is grown for silage. Normally, we get anywhere from 18 to 23 tons an acre. This year we were 16 tons. That was harvested in March.

Right now, I've got corn that's about 3 feet tall that was planted in April. That's going to come off the end of August, beginning of September. It looks beautiful today, but this time of the year we're not reliant on Mother Nature; we irrigate. We just put in the first irrigation last week.

The milk price is coming up, so there's a positive there.

By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop grower

The main crop I have is almonds. We're finishing up our nitrogen potassium fertilizer application. Now it's just a matter of keeping the weeds under control. I did an extra fungicide spray for rust, which was really erratic.

For almonds, the projected estimate is 3 billion pounds. That's a record. It's due to increased acreage and the new acreage that's been planted in the last five to seven years. Growers are tightening up their plantings. Back when I started, it was 110 trees to the acre, and now they're going anywhere from 123 to 141 trees per acre. So they're anticipating higher yields just based on tree count.

With the COVID, it's affected shipments leaving the country. Container ships are waiting for their turn to get into port. I think domestic sales have done quite well. But with that big a number in total pounds, it's really driven the price down, and the ability to move product is taking its toll on the market.

For growers in federal water districts, the price of water is running $500 to $600 an acre-foot, so it's definitely putting a squeeze on guys that have debt on their ground. All the water districts are doing what they can to secure enough supplemental water and sell to growers at a reasonable rate. Three feet at $500 is $1,500 an acre. Throw the bees on top of that, from a grower standpoint, the self-pollinating varieties such as Shasta and the Independence start looking really attractive.

We finished our cherry harvest about two weeks ago. That turned out well. It had good yields and quality.

Pistachio bloom this year was peculiar. It seemed like the west side of the valley, west of Mendota, was a very erratic male and female pollination. It's way too early to know what we're going to have. They're just now starting to form the nutlet and you don't know what's going to turn out to be blanks and what's going to create a kernel. They seem to have caught up as far as foliage on the tree.

We also have olives. These are super-high-density plantings with 726 trees to the acre. They're blooming now.

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