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From the Fields® - September 15, 2021

By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County farmer and rancher

In the Scott and Shasta valleys, the water board is curtailing all agricultural water use at this time. We, of course, still have domestic water use. The board will allow us a small amount of water for livestock watering, but that's it.

Most people are on the end of irrigation for crops at this point. Some people are concerned about the ability to irrigate pastures and keep livestock feed available without having to feed hay that's going to be very expensive this year.

Hay prices are very strong, and demand is off the charts. I don't think we have produced enough hay in California to meet the needs this year. With curtailments and a very dry year, we're going to see very high prices. Hopefully, there's enough forage to get people through this winter. It's going to be a tough one for the livestock people this winter.

We have some significant fires causing a tremendous amount of smoke. Our growing days have been very affected by the heavy smoke in all of Siskiyou County, as well as threatening many of our communities. It's becoming more obvious that active management of the forest is going to have to happen for safety reasons. We have communities right now that are in incredible jeopardy. We've got a little bit of rain, which could help, but we could still lose towns. It's one thing to have some fires out in the woods, but when we're losing whole communities, we need to say this is enough and come up with ways to manage forests more actively.

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut farmer

The long days of bringing in the crops is here. The walnut crop looks average at this time. However, you never really know until we get the crop into the dryer. Most farmers have a love-hate relationship with harvest. While every farmer and rancher wants to know how good or bad the yield will be, we also dread seeing grade sheets and price estimates. But I am hearing the price will be up from last year, so that is always a good thing.

The cost of everything has gone up—fuel, labor, insurance, chemicals and more. Added to all our normal worries is still COVID and keeping employees safe. Can we manage harvest without anyone on the crew getting sick? There is no doubt that farming has always been tough, but it sure isn't getting any easier.

We have also struggled with how to keep all the crops irrigated through this summer of drought. As we move into harvest, we begin to plan for next year. That is also proving to be more difficult than usual, as we don't know how much water we will have.

More than ever, California needs to move forward with more water storage and a new and improved plan for water deliveries. If we want to have more people in this state and continue to farm, we need to improve the infrastructure that we already have.

By Denise Godfrey, San Diego County nursery producer

It has been a good year so far. This sentiment was echoed at Cultivate in Columbus, Ohio this July. Everyone has been selling lots of plants, both color and foliage.

At Cultivate, there was a lot of consumer/customer interest in what's happening with foliage right now. Everyone was excited to see a younger generation becoming interested in plants.

The growing interest in foliage started a couple of years ago but took off during the pandemic as a lot of new people began starting plant collections once they were home more.

It is still amazing to see all the Instagram posts highlighting favorite plants and unusual finds. There has been a lot of talk over the last two decades about engaging with younger generations. However, this latest demand happened organically.

On the whole, this year is shaping up to be better than last year. With a lot of production coming on, we are hoping everybody's appetite is still pretty good for plants in the fall.

At the start of the pandemic, everyone was just trying to get their hands on any kind of foliage. Lately, we have seen consumers starting to become more selective about the plants they buy. I think that's going to continue in the spring. We are always trying new varieties, so we can continue to focus on providing durable and interesting houseplants.

Along with many other operations, raw-material costs and labor availability are a couple of the biggest challenges we have seen over the last year. This did prompt a mid-year price increase. We continue to focus on how to use our resources more efficiently.

By Doug Dickson, Sacramento County pear grower

Both Bosc and Bartlett bloomed simultaneously this year. We didn't have a lot of blight pressure and insect pressure. With the early bloom, Bartlett sized well in June. We started fresh-market Bartletts on July 12, which was two weeks earlier than last year. We're completely finished with harvest. We finished Bartletts on July 29. We finished Bosc on Aug. 14.

Timing of irrigation was essential this year to get fruit to size, so we spent a lot of time measuring soil moisture. We irrigated probably more this year than we had in previous years because of the drought. This ranch has been farmed since the 1880s, so we have senior water rights, and we kept the water going as the fruit was sizing. The Bosc responded well to irrigating. Both varieties sized pretty well in June. The yields on Bartletts were pretty good. We had a record crop on the Bosc this year.

As usual, the market during the first part of harvest is always the best and deteriorates very quickly once we get into harvest. We're all trying to get fruit to size and hit the market early, and oftentimes it's difficult. You want to wait for more size and for the fruit to mature, so you get a bigger crop. But if the market drops in half, it didn't do you any good.

One of the reasons a lot of stuff didn't get picked this year is if you didn't get water on it, there were some sizing issues. We didn't see that on this orchard, but there's quite a bit of stuff that didn't get picked around here because they just didn't size. If you're late and you've got smaller fruit, there's no market for it anymore.

Labor was way better than last year. Many days last year we didn't have any pickers come. This year was pretty stable. We had some inexperienced pickers that were not doing very well, and we had to make some changes, but the labor contractors had decent crews.

By Peter Ficklin, Madera County winegrape grower and vintner

What I'm hearing from growers this year is it's a lighter crop. Some of the older vines are struggling more with a lack of water, and the younger vines we are pulling grapes from seem to have more of an average crop.

We're going to see a small crop next year if we don't get some water into the ground and into the root zone. Smoke taint has been in the news, and California has certainly had its share of wildfires. Here in Madera, we're isolated from that but still remain concerned.

COVID has been an issue for almost a year and a half now; it's been a real roller coaster for the tasting room in when we can taste and what regulations will allow. We have followed a recommendation to close the tasting room. Wine sales have been very good both online and for curbside pickup. We've stayed in touch with customers through webinars via Zoom with tasting samples that we send out. But it certainly has put a damper on the ability to come out and taste.

Crush and harvest is happening now, and we look forward to being able to share ports that we're making with people in the future.

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