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From the Fields® - November 25, 2020

By Laura Gutile, Madera County pistachio grower

Pistachio harvest was really good this year, and overall, it was an "on" year for pistachios. Harvest usually starts in late August and goes through October. For me personally, harvest was the last weekend in September.

Preliminary reports coming in are that the state's pistachio growers produced 1 billion pounds of pistachios this year. The crop may be just shy of that, but it is still a huge year for us, which is really good. For me, it was an "on" year as well. We had one of our largest crops that we've ever had. My trees, I think this is their seventh year producing, so they are quite young.

At this point in the season, we applied a nutrient spray to help the trees take in nutrients to store over the winter. We are hoping for lots of chill hours. We didn't get very many last year, so we're hoping to not have a repeat of that.

COVID-19 is affecting shipments of pistachios overseas. What we're exporting is seeing some fluctuation in shipments, so time will tell on that.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

The best thing that's happening right now is we're getting some rain. We've had exceptionally dry conditions out in the woods. This is the driest I think I've seen since 1977. It has been dry, dry, dry, so the rain is really good to see. We haven't gotten a whole bunch yet, but it's really been good to see and is a respite from everything else that's been going on this year.

Regarding COVID-19, the timber industry didn't react fast enough to everybody staying at home, cutting boards and working on their houses. This created huge demand for lumber, and with the mills shut down, there was suddenly a lack of supply and the price of lumber went through the roof. The mills really had to play catch-up.

In addition, the wildfires dumped a lot of Douglas fir timber onto the local market. A concern I have is that this is going to flood the market with logs and it's going to make it potentially difficult to sell (Douglas fir) logs next year. But, we'll just have to wait and see.

I'm looking forward to the arrival of a vaccine and to maybe having a year where we don't have intense fires, because it's been a crazy year. We'll be happy when this year is over.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and almond farmer

Here in San Joaquin County, harvest went well. It really worked out well because there were no rainstorms that did any damage. (Grape) yields were probably about average to a little bit below. Quality was really, really good, especially with the whites. There were some issues with smoke-tainted fruit, but that was just down to a couple of wineries. It wasn't countywide. For us, (harvest) started Aug. 10 and went to Oct. 29, so it was a long harvest.

I think because of the length of the harvest, the wineries weren't as backlogged as they were in years prior. In some years, it seems like everything's at one time. This year, they're kind of spread out, and everything ran pretty smoothly as far as the wineries and trucking and everything else. Earlier on, labor was somewhat of an issue, but that kind of got corrected. We were very, very concerned at the beginning of harvest with the coronavirus, but it seemed like everything went well. We prepared with face masks and hand sanitizers and social distancing, and everything else.

We grow almonds, and same thing with that—the weather just cooperated. At times this past year, especially prior to harvest, there was some heat that might have messed with things or been a challenge at some point. With drip irrigation, we were able to put water on when needed and to be prepared for the heat spells, but as far as mildew, rot and insect damage, all that was real good this year—no problems at all.

By Jason Cole, Ventura County avocado and citrus grower

Lemonwise, obviously, it was a pretty abysmal year as far as COVID and pricing. We just finished up our fall (Asian citrus psyllid) treatment sprays on all of our orchards. We have a really nice crop set up for next year. We may get in there and start doing some harvesting, weather permitting, in December-January.

Avocados, we wrapped up—kind of the opposite of lemons in terms of the industry. I think we ended right around 385 million pounds total. We actually had, I think, close to our largest or second-largest revenue year on record, which was kind of crazy. I think we were one of those lucky people. That kind of showed that avocado demand is fairly inelastic. We finished packing in September.

We're just basically winterizing the ranch—servicing wind machines, getting ready for any cold snaps that might be coming through. We had a little cold snap about a week ago—got down to 30, 31. We didn't end up firing up the machines because it was real late in the morning, about 5 a.m., when it dipped down. But it's looking like it might be a cold winter, so that's definitely something we're preparing for—just getting roads repaired, ditches cleared, hoping for rain. We're just in catch-up project mode.

We just rounded up our cattle—shipped a bunch of cows last weekend. That's something we do this time of year. We run about a 100-head cow-calf operation.

We're clearing land for new plantings next year, doing a little bit of infrastructure work. We're going to plant another 100 acres or something.

Now it's just the dog days of winter, if you will. We kind of slow down, just playing catch-up, servicing equipment—all the stuff you don't have time to get to when you're in full swing. That's what November and December and January become around here.

By Kevin Merrill, Santa Barbara winegrape grower

We just got done with harvest, which was a mixed bag for us, with smoke taint here along the Central Coast and with a tough market. An oversupply of wine made it tough to sell fruit. All in all, it's good to have the 2020 harvest behind us.

Pinot noir demand was way off, especially here in Santa Barbara County. Pinot noir was the golden child for a while, but the supply is too much. Our program is not very big, so we don't sell that much, comparatively speaking.

Chardonnay is still the shining star here on the coast of Santa Barbara. Demand for chardonnay was still good.

Santa Barbara winegrape growers are absolutely affected by the pandemic. Smaller winemakers specialize in higher-quality wine, which sells for $60 to $80 a bottle at the restaurant, but with restaurants closing, that market is closed. What we saw happening was an increased market for more bulk wine out of the supermarkets in the $8 to $10 range. These wines were very popular and did really well, but the margins are much slimmer.

Like everybody in the state, we are going through the SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) process, figuring out how to bring our basins into sustainability, which is very, very expensive. For our medium-priority basins, we have until 2022 to get those plans in, which we are feverishly working on.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, it makes it very difficult to meet. When you're having meetings over the phone or Zoom, it just adds another challenge to meeting those deadlines, which the state has not made any effort to relax. It's very hard to get people involved. People need to be commenting on how these measures are going to affect their ability to pump water, and if they're not able to participate in a meeting, it's tough.

Regarding the rain forecast, all indications are it's going to be a dry year, so we hope that's not true.

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