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From the Fields® - February 16, 2022

By George Kendall, San Luis Obispo County lemon and avocado grower

We did not get our lemons picked before the December rains. We normally pick three times a year, and we didn't get the last pick in. The orchard did dry out by the middle of January, and we were able to get the pre-harvest spray on and get a crew to pick then. After that, we had the crew do the annual pruning, and we mulched the cuttings into the drive rows. We had to run the wind machine a couple of mornings in late January, but we did not see any damage in the lemons.

With what we picked, we got about what we expected. We get a larger amount of fruit in May; that's our main harvest, and then we get smaller pickings in September. Then in December or January, we get another smallish pick. The quality was good. Our next harvest will be most likely in May.

In the avocado orchard, the recent warm weather that we've had in February has caused us to step our irrigation up a little bit. We had 88 degrees on Feb. 8 and 9. We use a lot of wood chips in the grove, so we don't have too much weed pressure. That'll come a little bit later. This week we started to pick some of the green-skin varieties, specifically the Zutano. But the main half harvest won't begin until after we prune in April and May.

This year's crop is smaller than last year's crop. We had quite a bit of cool weather last spring during bloom and fruit set, so we didn't set a lot of fruit until late in the bloom period. Quality looks reasonable, but the volume, in our area at least, is going to be down.

We will begin our fertilizer program in March. We'll prune in April/May, and then we'll pick after that.

By Johnnie White, Napa County vineyard manager

We're sitting a lot better than we were last year. Last year, we received 9 to 10 inches of rain for the entire year. In October, our first rainstorm, we received 10 inches, and we are now up at 20 to 21 inches of rainfall for the year. We're still half of normal; we should be up in the 40-inch range. A lot of our reservoirs that were empty or near empty starting 2021 are full this year. But we do need water—a lot more water.

Right now, we are pruning; we're probably about 50% done pruning the grapevines, and we're applying our herbicide sprays. Right now, the cover crops are coming up. Cover crops are looking good, but we could use some rain to help them along.

Labor is tight. We suspect it's going to get tighter the further into spring we go. Labor is on the top of everyone's mind. Wages are increasing, as well as we're down to 40 hours a week now. We need 50% more people than we did five years ago, just because we're going from 60 hours a week to 40 hours a week. It's not good.

I have cattle now, and I'd say we really need some rain for our rangeland. We got that good rain in December, and we haven't had any since the first part of January. We got good grass growth, but cattle are keeping up with the grass. The cattle guys here in this area need rain badly to keep this grass going. We're already seeing rockier, thinner soil areas starting to turn brown. It's way too early for that.

Every day, it's more regulation that we're dealing with. I'm tired of spending my days in the office when the sun's shining trying to keep up with regulatory compliance.

By Al Medvitz, Solano County sheep rancher

We benefited greatly by the early rain, and we were very optimistic. We've got really good pasture. Our grain fields were planted, and they're doing really well.

The drought really began to affect us last summer with the alfalfa. The salinity in the river began to increase dramatically because of the drought and accentuated by the cross-channel barrier. We missed a few cuttings at the end of our alfalfa year, but we still had enough feedlot to ensure security through lambing in the fall and winter. We have an early lambing season from October to December and another one from February through March.

Then the rains came, which was just wonderful. We still have very good pastures, but it's beginning to show the lack of rain. If we don't get more rain, then we're going to have a serious problem very soon. Right now, we're fine, and it gets us through our lambing season.

The feed is still really good, but it will dry out really quickly, and that will make it difficult for us to hold our lambs through our normal marketing season. We might have to sell off early. Right now, the price that we get for the lambs is very high, but our animals aren't ready for market yet. The fall bunch should be ready in April or May. In the past, we've held them off during the year and marketed them in bunches over the summer into October, November. We won't be able to do that if these conditions hold. We didn't do that last year; we had to sell off early. Our February to March bunch will pose a problem.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County almond farmer

As of last week, almond bloom had not really started. We were just getting a couple (buds) popping here and there. Even though we're having record-high temperatures, we do not seem to be early for bloom. I think this week it will probably be really going.

The bees are all there in the orchards. There appears to be no rain or frost in the forecast in the foreseeable future, which should lead to a perfect environment for bloom, and will probably lead to overall smaller nut size.

We're also a little bit short on water. We were pretty hopeful because December looked pretty good, and then all of a sudden, nothing. I think we're still struggling down here.

The realities of (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) are starting to set in, and many farmers are now paying for groundwater. You are paying taxes on the groundwater that you own under your fields in the hundreds of dollars per acre. So, everybody is watching what they do in terms of water.

It's the beginning of a long, painful period of transition from an unregulated groundwater supply to a regulated supply. I encourage everybody who is not paying attention to go to their (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) meetings and participate in the conversation because it's coming to you, whether you think it is or not. Be ready to put in flow meters. They're using satellites to measure water use, which is not a perfect science, so, if you don't like that, get your meters. We're going to be in for a wild ride.

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