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From the Fields® - May 18, 2022

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and tree-crop farmer

We've had two patches of frost—one in the first part of April that did some damage to the area on winegrapes, and then little frost came through (the week of May 9), and it was minimal damage. It seems like everything's been weather-related this year. As far as the crop size and the winegrapes, that's really up in the air this year.

A lot of what people are looking at is compliance with (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act), with the governor's new executive order on drilling wells. The North San Joaquin Water Conservation District—which I'm a director of—we're trying to work with San Joaquin County and come up with a solution for growers to be able to drill wells. Some of them already got stakes or trees and vines ordered and need to get a well in as soon as possible.

So far, labor's been OK. I think part of it's contributed to not as much going on in the vineyards because of the frost damage. The other one is, the cherry crop seems to be down in size. Typically this time of year, everyone's fighting for that labor. It's been challenging for the growers but also challenging for the employees, because there's not as much work available.

With fertilizers, the cost is way up. It hasn't been an issue getting the fertilizer; it's just that when you get it and you look at the bill, it's a shock. The pesticides, crop production products, the prices are high. It seems like the inventory's starting to be a little bit more available, but again, the price of everything's just extremely expensive. Even tractor parts, there's delays on it. Availability on any item that we're dealing with in agriculture's been a challenge.

By Charley Wolk, San Diego County avocado grower

We're having another challenge this year with the crop being smaller because of the weather we had during the pollination last year. As a matter of fact, the (California Avocado) Commission just changed their estimate for the crop and reduced it. I believe, based on the ranches that I manage, we'll run out of California fruit before we get to the end of the year.

Down here in the south, in San Diego and Riverside counties, I think they'll be finished before the end of June. All of the ranches I manage, I'm done—except for my own, because it keeps getting pushed off to do somebody else's—but here we are in the middle of May, finished. My goal, in a normal year, is to be finished by the Fourth of July, which means I would be picking for another six weeks. And I'm finished. A number of properties I manage, we harvested nothing. I don't mean it was a smaller harvest. I mean nothing, like in zero. We had the flower, but it didn't get pollinated.

The quality of the fruit was excellent. The size was small. Groves would peak on, if they were lucky, peak on 60s. A lot of them peaked on 70s. That's two sizes below size 48. Of course, the flip side of that is, the grower's price per pound is up. But my old saying is, if the packinghouse is paying $5 a pound for your fruit, and you don't have any fruit, you don't make very much money at all. That's where we are now.

By Michael Vasey, Tehama County prune and walnut grower

We assessed our (prune) crop and determined that we have a pretty good crop in spite of some of the frost events that happened earlier this spring. You could see a little bit (of frost damage), but it was not significant for us. There are others who are not as fortunate, but I don't sense in the prunes that it was real widespread. But I don't know what's going on in the rest of the state. Almonds were in a more delicate situation. They got hurt worse, from what I hear locally.

All of our prunes are in production. We decided we needed to do some thinning, so we thinned some of our orchards. After that, we're doing some spring pruning in our prunes, getting some nitrogen out and getting irrigation going. Irrigation has been going for six weeks or so now. We're also doing some weed control.

With the walnuts, we're starting to assess our crop. They're all pollinated. It's still early to fully assess the crop, but so far, it's looking like we've got a decent crop of walnuts on the trees. They're about the size of your pinky or index finger. I think we might have lost some in the wind, but no frost damage on the nuts themselves or on the trees. We're doing nitrogen applications and irrigation. We had to do some blight sprays early this spring and also some sprays for scale. They're not as much trouble as the prunes, it seems.

By Frank Fitzpatrick, Orange County rancher

(Pasture) is dry. We're in the middle of a drought. Things are hard. We're running out of grass at every turn. We need more water, just like everybody else. I run about 700 head of cattle up in the Central Coast, and those are running out of feed, but they're not out. I've been supplementing the cattle here in Orange County for about the last two months. They look great because I feed the hell out of them. But I'm getting $4 a pound live weight for my animals. If you can sell your meat at a premium price, you can afford to feed them.

We have a current project right now with the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which (oversees) the toll roads in Orange County. We also have a program going with Double R Ranch, which is Orange County Rescue Mission. Basically, what we're doing is holistic cattle grazing to modify fuel loads. We're running cows like goats. The cows thrash down the brush. They put the brush into a soil stage, and you grow grass plants around the brush rather than having the brush shading out all the plants.

We're trying to get more projects. I was out filming a video this morning on holistic cattle grazing, and we're going to ship the cattle to the councilmen in Irvine. We're proposing a grazing project on Bommer Canyon right in downtown Irvine, 2,500 acres of a big park. I've also got another project started with Orange County Parks for 960 acres. A.G. Kawamura and I are trying to graze 170 acres in a great park that he's going to farm part of. We've got a lot of other things going. We just don't have anything done yet.




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