Atypical California growing season comes to end

California and Arizona stake a claim to 350 commercial crops, therefore, when it comes to reviewing 2006 in this year-end edition of Western Farm Press, there are 350 different stories for the 2006 season.

There is not enough space to cover them all. Only a highlighted few are included here.

As diversified as Western agriculture may be, the 350 crops have one thing in common: They all need water for irrigation. It’s supplied two different ways: from wells or from surface deliveries generated by mountain snow melt.

The one thing all surface-water supplied producers had in common in 2006 was that it was an excellent water-supply year. That means for growers with access to surface water deliver systems, they were delivered all the water they wanted thanks to an above-normal mountain snow pack, thereby reducing energy costs.

Now the annual snow watch begins anew. So far it has been a dry fall, but snow began falling around Thanksgiving. Forecasters are calling for an El Nino year, so growers are optimistic ’07 will be another good water year.

On the technology side, GPS tractor guidance systems and the variable rate input technology continues to grow. Drip or micro irrigation has been the water delivery system of choice for years for tree and vine crops.

Now drip irrigation systems — buried and above ground – are being widely installed on row crop ground in increasing numbers, and on larger acreages across California and in the vegetable growing areas of Arizona. Row crop drip irrigation is not new. What is different is wide adaptation. Lower costs for drip systems; easily portable filtration units, as well as proven yield increase from improved water efficiency are convincing annual crop growers drip is worth the investment.

Although water was plentiful, the weather was not ideal for sunshine and warmth to take advantage of the good water supply. Spring ’06 was cool and wet.

It was late April before the weather warmed, causing delays in planting annual crops and creating the need for many disease sprays in vineyards and orchards early in the spring. A stifling July heat wave added to the weather woes and an early fall precluded growers from finishing strong. Wet weather delayed harvest for some tree and vine crops.

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