Windshield View: May 20, 2015

It was so blustery today. The wind was hammered  straight down the Salinas Valley from the Monterey Bay. If I had had a sail, I could have driven home from Salinas on wind-power alone!
I now sit in my living room and look to the West with a range of hills between Paso Robles and the 30 miles to the Pacific. I can see the air-borne sea-salt in the air.

Windshield View: Jul 31, 2015

Rain? Maybe.
Towering Gulf-of-Mexico-Style cumulous clouds are popping over the Santa Lucia Mountains from the ocean. Santa Barbara is supposed to get wet. Wouldn’t that be something if we did, too?
It’s a tough time of the year for the grape growers, as they are in full veraison (the grapes are turning color and the sugars are increasing). These are perfect conditions for the Grey mold or Botrytis, often called the Noble Rot. This is not something a grape grower wants right before harvest. 

Windshield View: July 29, 205

Wow! The grapes are ripe early. In the San Joaquin Valley, they have harvested and white grapes are drying for raisins. On the Central Coast,  the brix (the unit for the amount of sugar in grapes and sugar beets) is climbing in the wine grapes. I bet some people might start picking their wine grapes early. 

Windshield Views

The average person in America drives 12,000 miles per year. The average person working in California agriculture drives 30,000 to 60,000 miles a year. It is a big state! There is a lot of ground to cover! 

We read the land. We feel awe at the glory of a valley sunrise or when shadows scud across far hills or the moon beams on the horizon. We feel our pulse race at a hint of rain and we are elated at the first indication of a great harvest. We are saddened at losses from pests, storms and frost. We fret as we drive into a fogbank. We wax nostalgic for the vestiges of the past that dot the landscape.

Our time behind the wheel and the views through our windshields feel uniquely personal and private, as we keep our own company. Our lives tick by while we watch nature pass in the flicker of an eye. 

Windshield Views: October 9, 2014

Yesterday, in Santa Maria, there was frenetic activity in the strawberry fields. Because of labor shortages this season, the farmers had to stagger their ground prep; and therefore, fields were at different stages of development.

In some areas, workers were frantically pulling up drip tape from last year’s crop. Other fields, were just being fumigated*. Then, again, some fumigation was complete and white plastic barriers were whipping in the ocean breezes like battle pennants as they were being removed. Precision bedding was being etched into Santa Maria heavy alluvium. And finally, some daughter plants were being transplanted into their special holes in plastic mulch.**

The seasonal cycle is an extremely intricate ballet of man, machines, weather, and plants. And all of that effort is so you will have something to dress up those cheerios in the morning! (And for those strawberry margaritas, too!)

* Yes, I know fumigation is a less than desirable pest management tool – but it is a current reality – and yes, the industry is working on more environmentally friendly replacements – there just aren’t any great alternatives available – YET! 

**Ag Plastic and drip tape are recycled.

Windshield View: August 23, 2014

Yesterday, I noticed the wooden harvest bins were placed in the garlic fields that I have been watching.

In late July the plants were undercut and allowed to field-dry. Remember this. It requires 6-8 weeks of drying time before harvest.

Hmmm…there aren’t many places on the earth that have 6-8 consecutive weeks without rainfall or have low humidity. 

Agri- Stats: California

California Ag: 

  • Has nearly 78,000 farms and $42 billion in annual revenue – about 12% of the U.S. total.
  • Is responsible for about 16% of national cash receipts for crops and 7% of U.S. revenue for livestock and livestock products.
  • Includes “more than 400 commodities,” and produces “nearly half of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the United States.
  • Export revenue reached $18 billion as recently as 2012, up from $6.5 billion the previous decade.5
  • $1 billion in agricultural exports supports roughly 8,400 jobs.
  • “Applied” water use by category:
    • Urban: 10%
    Irrigated Agriculture: 41%
    • Managed Wetlands: 2%
    • Required Delta Outflow: 6.5%
    • Instream Flow: 8.5%
    • Wild & Scenic Rivers: 31%
  • Lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, and many other fruits and vegetables are made of 90% water or more.
  • “Inflation-adjusted gross revenue for California agriculture increased about 88 percent between 1967 and 2010, from $19.9 billion to $37.5 billion.”
  • Total applied water use to crops in California was reduced by 20% between 1967-2010, from 31.2 million acre-feet (MAF) to 24.9 MAF.”
  •  “Economic efficiency” of irrigation water more than doubled in the last half century, as prices for water increased. For example, prices increased from $638 per acre-foot in 1967 to $1,506 per acre-foot in 2010.
  • In an average year (pre-drought), agriculture would irrigate about 9.6 million acres with 34 Million Acre-Foot of water, or about one-third of the available surface water supplies.
  • Between 1970 and 2010, low-volume techniques were used to irrigate nearly 3 million acres and the use of gravity irrigation fell
  • Low volume irrigation techniques can achieve an efficiency rate of between 80% and 90%.
  •  In 1991 gravity irrigation (furrow or flood) was used by 67% of farmers. By 2011 that number fell to 43%.
  • The Agricultural Water Management Council (AWMC) has so far united 7814 “agricultural water suppliers and 4 environmental organizations
    committed to implementing efficient groundwater management plans.

Source: CDFA?

Reposted from August 20, 2014 Facebook Post.

Windshield View – May 10, 2012

It is one of the most beautiful times of the year on the Central Coast. There are SO many colors of green – fresh lime green of new growth, muted soft greens of drying, cool season, rangeland grasses and the midnight green of healthy live oaks silhouetted against the hills.
There is very little dry land farming here because the rainfall is too iffy. But, every year, a few intrepid growers manage to eek out a hay crop.
This time of the year, they start cutting and laying down the green straw. The pattern of the hay swaths curling and swirling around the hills and the geometry of freshly pressed hay bales so precisely placed is visually satisfying when flying by at 70 (75?) MPH.

Windshield View – April 13, 2012

It was an incredible day in the Salinas Valley today. Imagine sitting in a bowl surrounded by hills. On one side are velveteen, moss-colored high pastures and the other side are dark, violet shadows of high mountain forests.  Rain clouds are building columns of light and shadow and create a breathtaking dome overhead! Tiny cupped lettuce seedlings and unfurling grape leaves are phosphorescent green dots under murky storm clouds. All is a dramatic contrast of light and dark. New life pulsates beyond the reach of reason and the ability to describe.