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From the Fields® - August 19, 2020

By Greg Panella, Lake County pear grower

The Bartlett pear crop is a little lighter than average for us, but we're picking out OK. We started harvesting last week. It's not necessarily uncommon for it to get above 100 during harvesttime. We pick early in the morning and we're done by the heat of the day. We keep the workers out of heat and keep some water to the trees if you can.

We've been using the same farm labor contractor and they are back this year with the same employees. We totally rearranged the camps this year to allow for proper social distancing, and we're disinfecting everything multiple times a day and taking the pickers' temperatures before they go into the field and doing everything we can to mitigate COVID.

We didn't have much warm weather during bloom this year, so most of our main buds didn't set fruit. The result is we have a real staggered fruit size on the tree. There's a lot of later flowers that came out that set smaller fruit this year, so it's been difficult to get consistent size throughout the orchards, and tonnage is not there because there wasn't enough heat to set the fruit.

By Derrick Lum, Solano County farmer

We're managing my small olive grove, maintaining it for next year's crop. It's an off year for my olive oil crop. It was a heavy crop last year.

The walnuts that I oversee at my brother's ranch are an average crop this year, not a big production. We're trying to manage the disease in it and maintain the water coming off this year. The submoisture is not there, so we've been irrigating more often.

In the row-crop arena, I'm overseeing some of the land for a farmer that leases my land, so I'm watching the crop for him and managing his guys. We did notice that we had to irrigate quite more often because the submoisture is not there from the light rain in the spring. For all the crops, we have to do a little more irrigation this year.

The persimmons look really good. It's just that we had to irrigate a little more often to keep up the moisture. Persimmons size better when it gets cool. We've had a lot of hot days, so let's see what happens this fall, because it's a fall crop and we harvest in October. But there's a good crop set on them.

I'm overseeing sunflowers too. The sunflower crop looks good for seed production. It was just a little bit tough at the very beginning to get the moisture in the ground for germination, because there were not the many late rains to put the submoisture in the ground, so we had to pre-irrigate a lot. Because of how parched the ground was, that was difficult. But once we got it going, it turned out all right.

The triticale wheat turned out really well, even though there weren't many spring rains to finish it off well. We had enough to finish out a decent crop.

The other crops are looking pretty good. Our bean crops, the sweet-corn crop and crops like pumpkins, they all look good right now.

Under the current COVID, that's another thing. People still have to eat. A lot of restaurants aren't open, a lot of hotels and businesses aren't open, but people are still eating at home and purchasing product.

I think farmers are doing their due diligence in training their staff. Through our ag commissioner, we just had a training for the workers in the field and picking staff, to educate the labor force that we use to pick the vegetables, to get them trained on wearing the masks, social distancing in the field, being very hygienic and clean, and washing their hands. We want to be safe. We want to make sure everyone that handles all the products is safe, so we can get the food into people's hands.

We're just farming in precarious times. Thank God the relief from the government is helping out. We hope we can get more funding in some of these specialty crops.

By Julie Walker, San Diego County nursery operator

We specialize in drought-tolerant varieties that herald from similar climates in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Our fields are planted with varieties that are popular with the cut-flower market. Our original focus was on cut-flower production, but we've gradually transitioned to most sales consisting of liners for landscaping and patio pot use.

In February, due to COVID-19, cut-flower sales were immediately impacted. As events were canceled, total cut sales plummeted. Our learning curve was huge as we scurried to pivot, look for new avenues and try to forecast the viability of our business. COVID spread and we realized that our nation and global communities were also dangerously affected. Pandemic became our collective nightmare. We've been knee-deep in quarantining, masks and hand sanitizers, with major concerns for the health and well-being of our family, friends and employees, plus our business.

The Payroll Protection Program stepped in at the right time. We were able to float our business, keep our employees and try to focus on a still-blurry future.

As the population stayed home, trends turned toward activities such as home landscaping. Our liner sales had remained consistent and then, to our delight, began to increase. We are pleased that our plants had found their way into more homes and in general landscapes. Our liner sales remain robust and have helped push back on our cut-flower losses.

The challenge now is the same question since the beginning: What does the future hold?

By Matthew Efird, Fresno County farmer

The last of our mite sprays has been applied to all of our orchards and vineyards, and should hold through the remainder of the year. Almond harvest is well underway, with most of the Nonpareil and Independence varieties being shook. With the high temperatures, water management of all of our crops will be critical. The heat will also place additional pressure on sweeping and harvesting, as the maturing of the almond pollinator varieties will be accelerated. We should begin to shake those nuts by the end of the week.

Sugars are 20 +/- brix in our Fiesta raisin grapes. Cane cutting for mechanized raisin harvest will begin toward the end of the week, with harvest beginning 10 to 12 days later.

Our walnuts continue to mature, and I estimate that we are about a month away from harvesting our early Serrs.

We finished the final pick on our cling peaches early last week. Quality was excellent, but the crop was off a bit. As expected, the almond crop seems to be a large one, with load counts up from last year, and I estimate our walnuts and raisins to be on pace with last year's production.

By Tom Coleman, Fresno County pistachio grower

In our pistachios, we are checking for nut fill and keeping our irrigation going at a pretty steady pace because of the heat and the fact that we're nut filling. We're pretty much done with our fertilization and we're heavily monitoring for navel orangeworm. We completed our first sprays last week and we anticipate starting harvest on Sept. 3.

We're anticipating a slightly smaller crop than what the industry thought. They were talking 1.2 billion pounds at one point and now I'm getting some numbers as low as 800 million pounds. I don't think it's going to be that low, but I think it's going to be a little above 900 million pounds. Pistachio harvest is a little bit later than last year but overall, it looks pretty good.

Pistachio growers just got word that pistachios are now going to be included as one of the commodities to receive pandemic financial relief, so everybody's happy to hear that. We haven't seen the government forms to fill out yet, but I'm sure it will be complicated.

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