farming

The End of the Season

The 2015 harvest season has come to a close already. It started early on April 24th with our first pick of the season and ended on July 31st with the last load of Goldline peaches delivered to cold storage. Prices were consistently good this year which will help cover the expense of putting in two new wells. The drought here in California is in its fourth year and Tulare County, where we live, has been hit the hardest. Thankfully prices were consistently good this season which will help cover the cost of putting in two new wells.

New Well #1

New Well #1

New Well #2

New Well #2

Mike planned ahead and got on the 6 to 9 month waiting list for drilling in June, 2014. One well was drilled in November and the other in February. (Cool, Clean Water!) The well in November was drilled as an insurance policy in case the drought continued.  The one in February was out of necessity because one existing well went dry.

The pump for Well #1 did not arrive until May, however. By that time, two of our three existing wells had gone dry and the third was on its last trickle of water. This required Mike to be irrigating our 65 acres of fruit trees 24/7 for a couple months. You can liken this to having a newborn baby. He was up every 3 to 4 hours day and night watering the trees during those two months. A sleep-deprived 62 year-old farmer is not a pretty picture. Mike had to cancel his local fruit deliveries because he knew he was not safe behind the wheel. He also had to delegate tractor work and repairs to others, which was an added expense.

Hard-working Farmer Mike

Hard-working Farmer Mike

Well #2 requires work by the electric company which is another major expense. We are considering using a propane system instead of electricity. In the meantime, we have the one producing pump to irrigate all of our farm. Even though the harvesting is done, the trees begin preparing for next year’s crop shortly after they are harvested. Healthy trees require sufficient water to set a good crop, so Mike will be giving them another good irrigating this month. Hopefully we will get much-needed rain soon. Please join us in praying for a wet fall and plenty of snow in the mountains this winter. Here is something to help you visualize what we need.

Our Water Source

Our Water Source

Categories: ag water, Agchat, farming | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Does it Belong in a Museum?

Refurbishing Packing Shed

Field Packing Shed

This is one of two field packing sheds we use to pack our fruit. They were originally designed and used in the 1960s. Mike’s dad packed fruit in them and now Mike is carrying on the family tradition.

Mike Fixing Packing Shed

Fixing Packing Shed

As far as we know, we are the only farmers still doing this type of field packing of fruit. We are able to get the fruit from tree to bucket to lug box in minutes.

Naylor Organics Peaches

Box Full of Sweetness

The lug boxes are stacked on a trailer and moved to the pole barn until they are loaded on the truck with a forklift.

Mike Driving Forklift

Our Forklift Driver

From there Mike drives the truck 10 miles to Reedley where it is put in cold storage until shipped to the consumers.

Delivering to Cold Storage

Delivering to Cold Storage

We know whoever takes over our farming operation in the future will not be using these packing sheds. Perhaps we will donate them to a museum to preserve this part of farming history. Do you think it belongs in a museum?

Categories: Agchat, agriculture, family farm, farming, history, photos, small farm | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Longest Short Summer

If you have been reading my blog, you are aware how challenging farming can be.  Weather, drought, labor shortages, are a few of the difficulties we face as farmers.  When you add health issues to that, life can be almost overwhelming at times.  I (Nori) have been experiencing several physical ailments during the summer which have made it hard to keep up with blogging.  I tried to post a few photos, but was not able to write anything since May.  I am feeling some better now and hope to get back to writing more often.

Windy April Day

Windy April Day

Believe it or not, our harvest season is now officially over.  It started early this year on May 1st which made it seem like we were playing catch-up all season.  The drought made it necessary for Mike to irrigate more days because the flow from the pumps was low, so it took longer.  It also made it necessary for him to get up every three hours during the night to check the water so as not to waste any.  Kind of like nursing a baby, I told him.  This made for a seemingly much longer summer.

Ruth Anne Yellow Peaches

Ruth Anne Yellow Peaches

Just as the season was ending, our precious dog, Penney, came down with Valley Fever.  Mike and Penney are very close, so this is really tough on him.  She is also doing some better, but needs medication 2Xs a day for up to a year to recover.  Didn’t know dogs could get Valley Fever.  She is 10 years old and this has slowed her down quite a bit.

Mike and Penney

Mike and Penney

We have about 20 acres of fallow ground that we had planned to plant with more fruit trees this year.  That had to be put on hold due to the drought.  Young trees require more water to get a good start.  We found that berries need a lot of water as well.  They also don’t do well in 100 plus degree weather.  Despite all of that, we had a good harvest season and will be back at it again next year.  We are hoping for lots of rain this fall and lots of snow on the mountains this winter to end the drought.  Otherwise, we’ll start next year by putting in a new well.

Cup 'O Berries for Breakfast

Cup ‘O Berries for Breakfast

 

 

 

Categories: ag water, agblog, Agchat, farming, weather | Leave a comment

Organic is More Than What You Eat

Driving around the Central San Joaquin Valley of California this time of year you see farms waking up from their winter slumber. Some apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, and almond trees are already in bloom.

Apricot Blossoms

Apricot Blossoms

This means the sound of spray rigs fills the air day and night. There is a window of time when the delicate blossoms that will one day turn into delicious fruits and nuts need protection from disease and insects. So, farmers and/or farm employees must apply the various precautionary chemicals or organic compounds so that the future crop will be productive and profitable.

This is also the time when you can see the difference between organic and conventional farming practices. Never fear, this is not intended to be one of those blogs bashing “those” farmers. This is simply an observation of what is happening this time of year here in California, long before there is anything edible on the trees.

The reader can take this information and, hopefully, add it to their pool of knowledge regarding the differences between conventional and organic farming practices.

Conventional Orchard

Conventional Orchard

One of the most obvious differences can be seen in the condition of the ground or soil.  Ask any organic farmer and they will tell you one of the most difficult challenges is weed control. Weeds use up water and can choke other plants by taking away their light or competing for nutrients from the soil. On the other hand, cover crops (the right kind of weeds) can actually add nutrients to the soil and can prevent the ground from drying out as quickly, thus saving water.

Weeds waiting to be flamed.

Stinging Nettle

Another problem with weeds is they can be skin irritants such as stinging nettle. Yet, nettle can also be harvested and dried to make tea that may have some health benefits.

In orchards with stone fruit, the weeds harbor beneficial insects that provide integrated predatory pest management (IPPM) in the summertime. That means good bugs eat bad bugs. They also provide cover for wildlife such as the California Quail that inhabit our farm. Quail are a favorite food of Red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey. So, we see them on the farm, too. Great Egrets have even taken a stroll in the orchards.

Taking a Stroll

Taking a Stroll

California Quail

California Quail

Regardless of whether organic fruits and nuts are proven more nutritional and safe for eating, organic farming practices have been proven to increase biodiversity on the farm and to enrich the soil so that it will continue to be productive in the long-run. So, organic is more than what you eat. Which orchard would you rather take a stroll in?

The Difference is Obvious

The Difference is Obvious

Categories: agblog, Agchat, farming, organic farm, photos, Spring, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dirt is Smaller Than You Think

@NaylorOrganics Mike (center). Appreciate your participation on grower panel at Tulare Sustainable/Organic Seminar

Mike Naylor (center)

Mike had the opportunity to sit on a growers’ panel at a sustainable/organic production seminar recently. The other panel members were from a smaller and a much larger farming operation. During the day several researchers shared their findings on studies of pest management and farming practices. Mike learned a lot of new information some of which he will try to apply to our farm.

For instance, the importance of keeping the soil healthy. Mike knew the benefits of good soil conservation methods and amendments, but he did not know how alive the soil is with microscopic organisms. As Mike puts it, “Dirt is smaller than you think.”  For more about dirt see Stop and Smell the Dirt.

How does YOUR dirt smell?

Living Soil

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Whew! Now for the Good News

Our Label

Our Label

Super Rich Peaches

Sorry to leave our followers hanging after our previous post, but the good news is that Naylor Organics is still in business, for another year, at least. Our buyers accepted a letter of intent to be 3rd party certified. Also good news is we have a lot of fruit and it all looks and tastes great. Even better, the prices are good so far which, hopefully, will make up for the increase in wages.

A fellow farmer and friend of ours has not been so fortunate this year. He is practically begging people to come and pick his green beans since he could not find enough people to do the work and could not afford the increase in wages to attract them. He is not set up for U-pick, however, so insurance issues are keeping gleaners away.  So sad when you cannot even give good produce away due to regulations and insurance.

Flavor Crunch and Black Splendor Plums

Flavor Crunch and Black Splendor Plums

U-pick Going Strong

Our U-pick has also grown this year. Believe it or not, there are few U-pick farms in our area, the agriculture belt of California. People are finding us, though, and having a great time harvesting their own fruit. We also have expanded our direct on-farm sales.  Right now we have 3 varieties of apricots, 2 varieties of plums, 2 varieties of nectarines, and peaches available for people to pick or pick up and enjoy. Always call ahead for availability. The 100 plus degree days will make the fruit drop quickly. Great jam and jelly making time.

You might be thinking it is too early, but the fruit is all ahead by two weeks due to the weather conditions this year. So start thinking about purchasing California fruit now.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, farming, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Are You Willing to Accept Less Food Choices?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose of you who have been following us or who have read our farm story know that we pride ourselves in growing and packing the best quality fruit possible. This takes a lot of time, work and energy. So, it is very discouraging to us that people no longer feel they can trust farmers due to the recent food-borne illness outbreaks.

We sell most of our fruit wholesale to retailers who increase the price to suit their profit margin. Our asking price per box is based upon how much it costs to produce a quality box of fruit. This means the cost of production including maintaining and repairing our equipment, organic materials to help prevent pests from ruining our crops, electricity for pumping irrigation water, mortgage payments, labor, packing boxes and supplies, fuel for deliveries, etc. Labor went up $1.00 per hour this year around here due to the labor shortage. Also, the Alta Irrigation District will begin charging farmers for water usage in the near future.

On top of all this, the Obama administration has decided to do something that has never been done before in the United States. Farmers will now be required to have their farms inspected to ensure they are following good agricultural practices (GAPs). The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 by President Obama to address, in a proactive way, the occurrences of food-borne illness outbreaks to quell consumers’ concerns. Unfortunately, all policies have unintended consequences. Those who drafted FSMA must have had large farms or corporate farms in mind because the paperwork required to comply with the regulations is enormous, at least it seems so for mid- to small-sized independent farmers like us. Also, it costs a great deal to implement the changes required. Large farmers who have accountants or lawyers to do the paperwork are only out the expense. But, as the old saying goes, “time is money,” too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome old fart farmers are blessed with sons and/or daughters that are following in their footsteps and can handle some of the paperwork. We are blessed with an awesome crew that works hard and does an amazing job, but the two of us do most all the maintenance, deliveries, agricultural inputs, irrigating, (mostly Mike) and paperwork (mostly Nori) ourselves. The food safety requirements have increased the paperwork exponentially in the past two years. I worked from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM on our GAPs policy alone yesterday. And FSMA has not even been finalized, yet.  The comment period has been extended to September 16th.

There are some food safety advocates that are upset that it is taking so long to get FSMA passed. These same advocates tend to be supporters of local food and small farmers. What they don’t realize is that many mid- to small-sized farmers are finding FSMA a nightmare. FSMA determines the size of farm by the gross income, not amount of land. Since we sell our fruit commercially, the stores who purchase our fruit are requiring us to be 3rd part certified already, regardless. This means that we have to pay a private company or the USDA to audit our food safety plan. The minimum cost is $199.00 per hour and the audit usually takes 3 to 4 hours.

The bottom line is, we have ripe fruit ready to pick and few companies to sell it to unless we are certified ~ even though we are certified organic and have never experienced a food-borne illness outbreak from our farm. For us, this means a huge loss unless the companies will give us more time (and, of course, they will not likely pay us any more for our fruit).

For the consumer, this will mean fewer choices at the market. As I say in my blog post What Do Consumers Want? consumers can’t have it all. Buying local does not help rural farmers like us who are in the agricultural belt of California where Fresno is the largest local market. We depend upon consumers in other cities and states to purchase our fruit in order to make ends meet.

We are seriously considering our choices for the future. If you want to talk social security, our farm is our retirement. We hoped to keep farming for at least ten more years, but, with some stores that usually purchase our fruit refusing to do so this year without proof of GAPs, we may have to make some very difficult choices regarding our ability to keep farming.

This year, the consumer will likely not notice much difference in the stores because there was a good set for stone fruit. Last year there was a shortage due to weather-related issues. The fluctuation in the availability of fruit from year-to-year means the real impact of FSMA may not be felt until several years after its implementation. The FDA and Cornell University are working together to bring farmers and those who advise farmers up to speed on FSMA. They attempt to quell farmers’ concerns by saying they are there to help them negotiate the process. That is all well and good, but for farmers like us, time and money are two commodities that they cannot supply and are what we need the most to implement the regulations and keep farming.

P.S. A neighbor and long-time fellow farmer just stopped by and told us this will be his last year farming.  He has done farmer’s markets for years.  The increase in wages is the nail in the coffin for him.  His son will likely buy his farm, so it will remain in the family which is wonderful, but this is another example of how tough it is for small farmers right now.

P.S.S. Another neighbor and long-time farmer just sold his farm to a corporate farming operation. That means there is now only one other small family farmer in our vicinity.

Categories: agblog, Agchat, family farm, farming, Food Safety, organic farm, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Those Darn Early Bloomers

Frost Protection

Polar Light Nectarine Blossoms

Polar Light Nectarine Blossoms

Last year we lost our early bloomers to the frost and hail. (See Living with Uncertainty post) This year we hope to avoid that disaster by irrigating during the frost. The well water is warmer than the air, so fog is created. The fog rises and raises the air temperature a degree or two as it cools which can make the difference between damaged blossoms or not. Damage on blooms starts at 27 degrees.

Frost Protection

Frost Protection

From a Distance

From a Distance

Till and Pack

Till and Pack

The loose soil is compressed with a till and pack piece of equipment in order to retain heat in the ground. Fluffy ground is actually 3 to 4 degrees colder than bare, firm, moist ground. Ideally, there would be no foliage on the burms under the trees, but we need the cover crops on our organic farm to harbor beneficial insects.

Till and Packing the Soil

Mike Preparing the Soil

Every acre of trees is important and requires constant monitoring especially in the Spring. Each of those beautiful blossoms has the potential to be a delicious piece of organic fruit.

Categories: agblog, farming, Nectarines, organic farm, photos, Spring, Uncategorized, weather | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Financialized Food: Friend or Foe

Quail and Cards

To Market To Market

Marketing our fruit has certainly changed over the past 30 years. Mike used to do all his own marketing by phone when we first started farming. We had one primary produce house that we sold our fruit to. Mike would make daily calls to check on sales and prices. We sold to the same markets his dad had established and life was good.

Then our primary markets began to change hands. They were either sold to larger companies or they changed their purchasing policies which made it more difficult to sell our fruit at a profit. Mike had to start calling stores directly to negotiate sales and prices. We finally had to get a broker to do the sales because it took too much of Mike’s time away from farming.

This change opened up new markets, but it was more difficult to keep track of the business end. Unfortunately, this led to us being swindled by a broker who claimed some of our fruit was rejected by the buyers when, in fact, he had sold it and kept the profits. This resulted in our having to sell part of our land to pay off our debts.

We were able to rebound when a new broker who knew the quality of our fruit approached us regarding marketing our produce. He wined and dined us by inviting us to come to Baja California to see the farms he was purchasing produce from there. We were easily “bribed” and decided to take a chance. We have not regretted it in the least.

This blog was inspired by this review of a new book on the farm-to-fork connection.  The review seems to pit big business against farmers and the consumer. Now I haven’t read the book yet, but my first thought was, “Aren’t the people who run financial institutions and farmers also consumers? It’s true that farmers who use a middle man (or woman) to sell their produce usually have very little control over pricing. But, in the US, we are far removed from the day when farms were self-contained entities that could provide for their family’s needs by growing their own food and/or bartering.

Farmers need to buy food to feed their families just as business people need to buy food to feed their families. Why are we pitted against each other as friends or foes? The author of the book asks why we can’t grow affordable, healthy food for everyone? Financialization of food is singled out as the “bad guy.” Where would the country be without financial institutions? Yet, I agree food has taken on symbolic meaning far beyond something to satisfy our hunger. It has been turned into another commodity like oil, gold, and silver. Water is also headed in that direction. Something that was formerly thought of as a public good, is evolving into a public resource which is vulnerable to the ups and downs of the marketplace.

Farms are inextricably tied to the web of the marketplace, which is why there is such as push for direct sales. This movement to face-to-face sales is great for farms that are near metropolitan areas and for produce that is considered a staple such as vegetables. Specialty crop growers like us who live in rural areas must compete for the food dollar. That is why small and medium farms are shrinking so rapidly in the US. Not everyone can direct market. Farmer’s markets are succumbing to the marketplace mentality as well. Competition to get into the more lucrative markets is extremely high.

So, is financialized food the foe it is painted to be? Has the marketplace model over-stepped its bounds? Another fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, don’t you think?

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Jack Frost Visited

Nature's Tinsel

Nature’s Tinsel

December 20, 2012 Freeze
We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland, but not of snow. We rarely get snow in the central San Joaquin Valley. Frost, on the other hand, is not uncommon this time of year. About every three to five years we get a hard frost (low 20s to high teens F.). This is NOT good. Tulare County, where we live, is a large citrus growing area with over 111,ooo acres of trees. A hard frost can cause severe damage, not only to the fruit, but to the local economy as well.

We only have a few trees in our family orchard in the front of the house. We set up a sprinkler to protect the orange, lemon, and pummelo trees.

Freeze Protection

Freeze Protection

Dec012freeze7

Young Plum Tree

Young stone fruit trees are also susceptible to frost damage. According to our thermometer, it got down to 28 degrees last night.  This could be a problem.  Potential damage also depends upon how long it stays cold, however. Kind of like frostbite in humans. The longer it stays below freezing, the greater the chance of damage.

Some larger growers have wind machines to protect the fruit. Others run irrigation water or sprinklers. The purpose of the wind is to create turbulence that mixes warm from higher in the air with cold air so that the air around the tree stays warmer. The water or sprinklers create a freezing fog or ice covering so that the temperature stays at 32 degrees. Lemon trees are more delicate than orange trees. The problem with using sprinklers is that sometimes the limbs break because of the weight of the ice.

Pummelo and Lemon Trees

Pummelo and Lemon Trees

Fresh Non-frozen Orange Slice

Fresh Non-frozen Orange Slice

The fruit damage may not show up right away, though. What causes damage is when the little juice cells freeze, they expand, like ice cubes, and the tiny walls or membranes break down. This makes them dry out so that the citrus is not as juicy, and, thus not as sweet.  Learn more about frost protection for citrus here.  See more of Jack Frost’s Handiwork here.

Jack Frost's Handiwork

Jack Frost’s Handiwork

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?

Categories: agblog, Education, family farm, farming, oranges, organic farm, photos, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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