Monday, December 26, 2016

Twas Time for Farmers to Take a Much Needed Holiday Break Before Planning for New Year

Twas the week before New Year’s and all through the Valley
Not a farmer was stirring, not even a field hand.
The tractor keys were hung by the door with care
In hopes that rainfall would soon be here.
The crops were nestled safely in the warehouses
While visions of good prices danced in their heads
And farmer ma in her shawl and farmer pa in his cap
Had settled themselves for a long winter break…

 Yes indeed, winter arrived last week with a nice pre-holiday gift – around a half-inch of rain on Friday. Californians – particularly farmers – probably had on this year’s St. Nick list – a drought-busting rain season. Ideally, they would have liked to have an encouraging rain forecast wrapped with a bow under the tree on Sunday.

Farmers say bring on the rain this season,
It may sound like the same broken record spinning the past five years, but the song sung by farmers once again is probably B.J. Thomas’s  “Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” 

Field scout Carlos Silva spoke with a group of farmers at a San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project gathering in Firebaugh last week and says their top-of-mind issue for 2017 remains water and its availability to irrigate their crops.

“There is always the question ‘How much water are we going to get?’ ” Carlos says.

After taking a break for the holidays, growers will be sticking mostly indoors and dealing with paperwork, including planning for next season’s crops. Those plans will have to take into account the possible water allocation and costs.
Knocking off mummy nuts is a priority.

Paperwork is a necessary evil for growers – who prefer working outdoors rather than indoors.  They need to decide on issues such crop rotations, land leases, new crops to farm or drop in the coming season. Business plans and other paperwork need to be filed with the county agricultural commissioner.

“There is a lot of work that goes behind the scenes,” Carlos says.

Before taking the holiday, growers did plenty of work outdoors to prepare for winter.

Almond growers, for example, were rushing to finish their orchard sanitation before the storm and holidays.  Field scout Jenna Mayfield says orchard sanitation should be one of the growers top New Year’s resolutions for 2017 – keep those orchard trees free of mummy nuts.

Jenna notes some growers embraced that resolution early and went back into the orchards with shakers to knock off remaining mummies. While this is labor intensive, the investment of time and energy will pay off in the long run. The reason is simple: a clean orchard leads to fewer pest problems, which translates into money savings through reduced chemical pest control use.
Before calling 2016 a wrap, growers rushed to finish work before the holidays and Friday’s storm, performing tasks such as fixing broken irrigation lines,  plowing under fallen mummy nuts, covering equipment kept outdoors and checking for tree diseases.

“It’s good to get the outdoor work done before the end of the year,” Jenna says. “Before you know it, the trees could start developing buds by January.”

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