Why rain euphoria doesn’t last

Last Thursday we were fortunate to have a very nice rain, 1.3″ that fell steadily over night. Now it’s Monday, and I’m already considering my next irrigation. Why? This graph holds the answer.

moisture

This is a data log of our soil moisture after the rain that fell on the night of December 15/16. The light blue line represents soil moisture at 12″, the dark blue line represents moisture at 36″. The range represented by the shading and dashed lines is the preferred range; a fully saturated soil would be at the top.

What we’re seeing here is that prior to last week’s rain we were quite dry… very close to the lower acceptable limit. We were ready to irrigate had the storm failed to deliver. Thankfully it delivered in line with expectations. Where are we now?

The rain had the clearest impact at 12″ (light blue), which is as you would expect, but it was insufficient to fully saturate the soil. At 36″ (dark blue), the rain barely registered at all. Shallow soil moisture has already dropped considerably as the rainwater wicks through the soil.

Hoping the rain forecast for next Monday turns up!

(Hat tip to our technology providers at Acuity Agriculture for a great tool!)

Sharing the 2014 Ventura County Crop Report. #VCCropReport

crop report

This week saw the release of the 2014 Ventura County Crop Report. As always, it sheds some light on a part of our economy that many residents are not that familiar with. I hope people will grab their own PDF copy ( 2014 Ventura County Crop Report) , spend a little time with it, and even share the report and impressions with their friends and neighbors on Social Media.

Here are a few of my observations that I hope will put Ventura County agriculture in perspective for people. I’ve included some tweetable tags for those who would like to share… Acknowledgment appreciated, but not required if shared.

Ventura County is more productive than many states. 2014’s record of $2.14 Billion in crop sales would place our county ahead of nearly half the states in the US.

#VCCropReport : $2.14 Billion in Ventura County crop sales supports local economy

Strawberry dominance diminishing? While still the county’s #1 crop, strawberries saw a drop in acreage from 2013 to 2014…a trend that is continuing in 2015.

#VCCropReport : 2014 Strawberry acreage to 11630 from 13555

The #2 Spot highlights our crop diversity: In 2014, Lemons were the second highest value crop. For the preceding 5 years? Avocados, Lemons, Raspberries, Celery, and Nursery Stock.

#VCCropReport : #2 crop for last 6 yrs: Lemons, Avocados, Lemons, Raspberries, Celery, Nursery

#VCCropReport : More than 50 crops break the $1M barrier #CropMix

Highly productive farms: Take a few minutes to think about some of the per acre production figures in the charts. 18.7 tons of lemons. 26.2 tons of strawberries. 63.5 tons of cucumbers. 89.7 tons of tomatoes. Ventura County farmland is insanely productive.

#VCCropReport : Why we grow lemons here: 18.7 tons per acre not even a record. Life doesn’t give Lemons. We do.

Different crops: Ventura County grows a lot of different crops, but few of the ones that people most often think of. Only 444 acres of corn in the county, out of 90,000+ irrigated acres.

#VCCropReport : Only 1/2% of our farmland is growing corn. #NotInKansasAnymore

A lot of rangeland, not a lot of cows. Ventura County has more rangeland than irrigated farmland, but we don’t raise a lot of livestock. Our ranchers provide great stewardship for this land, and that is important to all of us. But they don’t get paid a lot for the service.

#VCCropReport : Total 2014 Livestock sales $7.9M. Cilantro $23.3M #NuffSaid

Anyone taking the time to dig will certainly find other facts of interest. Please share them! But a  final note: Every year when the Crop report comes out, I run across someone grumbling about how much money farmers are making. If this might be you, please remember that the report only shows the sales… it doesn’t show expenses. Nearly every one of these dollars was spent, much of it locally…labor, supplies, water, utilities, professional services and property taxes. A farmer’s profit margins are lower than nearly every other business. Thanks for understanding.

“When life gives you lemons…

make lemonade.”

We all know this tired old aphorism. I don’t know who came up with it, but it sure wasn’t a lemon grower. Since I can’t have the expression banned from the English language, I suggest we take a look at it instead.

I understand that it is meant to inspire us to make the best of a bad situation, but frankly, if free lemons are your biggest problem, you’ve got it pretty good. I have to work for mine.
Yes, lemons take work. A lot of it. As well as risk, patience, and sometimes a little luck. A surplus of lemons doesn’t sound like hardship to me. It sounds like Christmas.

The same can be said for avocados, figs, oranges and any other crop I’ve ever been associated with. A chicken farmer, almond grower, or cattleman will tell you the same thing. I don’t mean to sound as if I’m taking it too seriously, but I think this expression is emblematic of our society’s disconnection from our food. Do we really think so little of our food that we consider a surplus of it a hardship?

#Avocados and #Super Bowl XLVIII

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#Avocados and #Super Bowl XLVIII

I’m pretty happy with the match-up for Super Bowl XLVIII. Not because I have an allegiance to either team (I don’t) or because I expect it to be a better than average game (I do.)

No, I am happy because both teams are from avocado eating parts of the country. The Super Bowl has become a big avocado consuming event, and the more avocado enthusiasts the better. I know teams like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Green Bay have their fans, and I’m sure they’d love to see their teams play. But I’m in the avocado business. Give me West Coast or Sunbelt teams, preferably in places that don’t think Mexican Food was invented during the Bush Administration. Yes, I realize that means I am OK with Dallas in the Super Bowl. That’s how serious I am about this.

Those who know may point out that most avocados this time of year are actually coming from Mexico, not California. You know what? They’re right. And I’m fine with that….these avocados are coming in anyway. I say have at them. Eat them up. Turn that flood of foreign fruit into a chunky green paste, grab some chips, and chow down.

When you’re ready for more, California will be here for you.

Why rain matters to avocados

First off, let’s state the obvious… all plants need water and water is expensive in California. That alone is enough to make avocado farmers jump for joy when a storm comes in. Rain can be worth as much as $20 to $100 an inch for every acre of orchard.

But there is an even more important reason. Avocados are sensitive to salt, and all irrigation water and all fertilizers (organic or conventional) carry some salt with them. Too much salt stresses the tree, slowing growth and reducing production. Rainwater cleanses this salt from the tree’s root zone.

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The classic symptom of salt stress is “tip burn”, seen above. This is quite common on residential trees who often don’t get a deep watering or are planted in poorly drained soils. (The speckly discoloration on these leaves is from Persea mite, but that’s a different article.)

Good Food for All (part 1)

Last night I was able to enjoy some wonderful food, great company and interesting conversations at the Good Food for All reception in Los Angeles. I’ll post details shortly on our other partners at the event, but I’ll start with Jimmy Shaw and Loteria! Grill, if for no other reason than I have a picture of their  offerings. The presentation isn’t great in this picture, but that’s because their table was quite popular… once they started serving, it seemed a challenge to keep up with all the people who wanted a taste. Our avocados were featured in both the carnitas tacos and the spicy shrimp sopas. Both were awesome… Jimmy must have a gift for deep, complex heat in his dishes, which went very well with the Revolution Pale Ale being poured next door.

We were also featured in a pressed fig dessert by Loteria’s Maca Martinez. This was simple, but delicious with a whipped cream topping that was spiked with a bit of cinnamon. It was a real pleasure working with the crew from Loteria!, and I think we’ll be teaming up on avocados in the future.

New Venues, New Friends

This week will find some of our produce in two high-profile events for California diners.

“Savor the Central Coast” is being put on by Sunset magazine to celebrate the food and  agriculture of this region. Tonight, a sustainable seafood dinner paired Seafood Watch with our long-time friend Tim Kilcoyne from the SideCar Restaurant in Ventura. Some of our tree-ripe lemons will play an important supporting role on the menu. The citrus poached shrimp sounds incredible.

 Wednesday, October 6, will see “Good Food for All: A Taste of the Los Angeles Foodshed”, anchoring a conference on Food issues and policy organized by Roots of Change. 35 of LA’s top chefs and restaurants will prepare tasting menus built around ingredients from farms in our region. I’m really looking forward to it, and not just for the food. We will have the opportunity to pair with several partners. This could still be subject to change, but as of now we will be providing avocados to the Loteria Grill; Meyer lemons, and Star Ruby grapefruit and Black Mission figs to Cube Marketplace and Cafe; and lemons, Meyers and Star Rubies to the Water Grill. I’ll be attending this one, and I can’t wait to have the chance to work with some great people who are passionate about food and agriculture.