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From the Fields® - May 4, 2022

By Josh Barton, San Joaquin County tree crop farmer

We are actively through bloom on the walnut side. We've completed most of our fungicide applications, and we're monitoring our irrigation. Water is becoming more and more of a finite resource, so the real challenge this year has been allocating our groundwater versus our surface water, because in one of our three locations, our surface-water availability hasn't come. We're scrambling to try to figure out how we're going to move water, do it efficiently and sustainably. We've got our challenges cut out for us.

It's still early in the season, but I'm hopeful that we have a good crop this year. It was a nice, even bloom. We didn't get dinged too bad by any of the late rains or high wind. What we get concerned about during bloom is pistil flower abortion. If the flowers of the walnuts during bloom get too much pollen or affected pollen from other varieties that are close by, they'll abort, and you'll lose that crop potential. We use a product by the name of ReTain to help mitigate the effects of PFA. We completed that, and that helped.

On the almond side, we completed bloom about a month and a half ago. We had some early spring freezes that we were concerned about, but we were able to get through that relatively unscathed. We had some blocks that had some crop loss and a little bit of frost damage, but it wasn't a ton of losses.

By Arby Kitzman, San Luis Obispo County avocado grower

My main concern is making sure I have adequate water for my trees. In our little basin, it's a fairly shallow aquifer, so there's not a lot of water, so it could be another issue like it was during the last drought. A lot of my neighbors stumped trees because they just did not have the water. Nobody has done that so far.

We are probably more blessed than others with getting labor. The cost for electricity, fertilizer and everything that we use is going up. Little surcharges are getting tacked on for certain things that we didn't have before. We're definitely in an inflationary trend.

In our little area of Morro Bay, we're pretty fortunate because we don't normally have really hot temperatures. We're pretty lucky as far as being able to pick and sell our fruit. Because of our cooler temperatures, our fruit lags behind what comes out of Southern California because they ripen sooner. We just watch and hopefully pick it at the right time. In the last few years, pricing has been best for a lot of us on the Central Coast around July.

As far as avocados are concerned, Mexico is a real driver. California avocados make up less than 10% of all the avocados consumed in the United States. Pricing for California avocados is pretty decent right now. Some of the crops coming out of Mexico are not up to their normal volume, so that helps.

By Celeste Alonzo, Riverside County vegetable grower

We've had extreme weather. For example, on a Monday it'd be 70 degrees and on Friday 90 degrees. The green beans flowered early, which led to poor production. It's been windy too, and the wind knocks the blossoms off the plants. For the corn, we've had some problems with sizing. Due to the weather, the plants don't know whether to grow or to stop, and this leads to an uneven crop.

We custom-grow potatoes for the fresh market. Varieties include Yukon gold, red rose and cifra white. The potato crop has been fantastic.

We are harvesting corn at night. It is a little more comfortable for employees. We also detassel the corn to make it easier for employees who harvest because the pollen really affects people.

We sell corn at various festivals and at the Stagecoach music festival. I'm excited because every year people come back and tell us they always want to have our corn. We see many familiar faces, and they make it known that they love the corn. It was two years without the festival due to the pandemic. During that time, we partnered with a friend and started selling to school districts doing produce boxes for students, so they could have food. We were selling a couple pallets of corn and bell peppers each week. The corn market last year was pretty decent. The markets aren't as great as we thought they'd be right now, but we try to stay positive.

By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay farmer

We are navigating our first irrigation season with state water board regulation of groundwater, which is new and unchartered territory for the state and the farmer. Over 50% of the acres in Scott Valley have submitted a plan to the water board for a local cooperative solution. Those affected are going to use 30% less water this year than they did one of the last two years. You can use 2020 or 2021 as a baseline year. The premise is a lot of voluntary water reductions were made last year due to drought, and you didn't want to take somebody's (water) that voluntarily reduced.

While we haven't had a lot of rain, we've had a showery and cooler weather pattern, so two weeks ago, most irrigation systems were turned off. Last week, most everyone got up and running. Where there's irrigation, things looks good. I suspect later on there will be more water struggles.

Water uncertainty and rising input costs led many people to make decisions later. We feel like we're behind in a lot of work. Fertilizers have been put on later and spraying decisions have been made later. It feels like we're definitely moving along kind of fast, so there's a lot of catch-up.

We're just starting our alfalfa weevil season, so we started treating for those. Our days are pretty much dominated by insect management and water management, and we're probably about 30 days from cutting our first crop of hay.

Everything seems high in price, the input side and our crop price. We're just hopeful that if prices are going to be high, then inputs and sales are high, and if inputs are going to be low, then sales will be low. We don't want to have one extreme to another, because you start having to pick winners and losers, and that doesn't work for the long-term, sustainable picture.

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