The 2008 season was the second dry year in a row after two wet years. Again, dry cold winter conditions affected vine development and crop yields.

Rainfall total for the year was about 50 percent of average; the same as last year, but in 2008 the rain stopped after early February and it remained dry. This was the opposite of 2007 when dry conditions dominated until late winter, followed by sufficient rain in late winter and early spring.

Soil moisture was low as spring unfolded. Weed growth was minimal and all pest pressure was relatively low, whether insect, mite or disease.

Spring frost occurred statewide for the first time since 1972. It appears there were three frost events during the week of April 13. The first two left the heart of the Lodi District untouched, but there were scattered and severe losses in the outer margins of the Lodi AVA. On the third night scattered damage also occurred within a five-mile radius of the central portion of Lodi. Individual growers suffered some severe damage, but as a whole Lodi suffered moderate to light damage compared with many areas of the state.

With and without frost damage yields were 15 percent to 20 percent below average and in some varieties such as Merlot and Syrah off by 40 percent to 50 percent. Quality was exceptional, but was a minor consolation. After a couple of brief hot spells during the summer, weather was about average.

Scattered leafhopper problems did occur in late season. The glassy-winged sharpshooter program has kept the area free of that threat, but vine mealy bug continues to spread. Gophers and voles were more of a problem than normal.

Harvest began with an about average start date. The pace began slowly, but ramped up as most all varieties seemed to achieve maturity at once. The light crop helped reduce severe scheduling problems, but did cause some concerns. A slight lull in maturity development in mid-September seemed to slow down most everything still in the field. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were only slightly below average in yields, where frost wasn’t a factor.

Most varieties and blocks were slightly below average, except for Merlot, Syrah and white Zinfandel among others. Cabernet Sauvignon was variable with some vineyards off as much as 50 percent, but most sites were off 10 percent to 15 percent. Harvest was finished by the third week of October.

Grape prices did improve by about 15 percent to 20 percent, but production costs increased about 30 percent to 59 percent. The price range of grapes continues to be large, depending on fruit destination (variety, wine program and winery). The 2008 season was generally better than the last two years, but frost and production costs diminished the good progress. Costs are still well ahead of grower returns on a long term basis; about $405 to $498 per ton for cash costs that don’t include cost of overhead and opportunity of investment. The all too familiar challenges remain - regulations, labor availability and more consolidation at the producer, wholesale and retail levels. Growers remain optimistic for 2009 as, at the ballpark, there is always next year.

Fall checklist

-If the soil is dry, a light irrigation to help maintain soil moisture is okay until it rains steadily.

-No nitrogen should be applied now, but potassium now (or early next year) is okay. It won’t move like nitrogen. To get full benefit of compost, it needs to be disked in.

-Make a note of any problem weed species that may be increasing.

-Mark any vines with excessive red leaves and/or leaf roll for possible removable.

-Renew your Ag Waiver Discharge membership.

-Update your air pollution mitigation plan if you have 100 acres or more in a single vineyard.

-Also, review your pesticide use reports and get everything up to date.

-For vine mealy bug, Lorsban applied post harvest can help keep it checked until the summer control program. Be careful not to apply before a storm, especially near natural drains and waterways.

-Pre-pruning can be done now, but leave at least 12 inches of dormant cane, until Eutypa spore load diminishes with some heavy or a few normal rains.

-If you are near or on watershed runoff sites limit herbicide applications so that either a contact material is used to “keep things under control” or use lowest label rate and skip several rows away from immediate runoff areas or slopes. Then reapply remainder of label rate late winter or early spring.

The 2008 season was a little more upbeat than for grapes, although there is concern about price weakening. After another very dry and cold winter, there were more calls about tree growth in spite of irrigating “as much or more than usual”. It was just too dry to keep up at times this year. Good weather was present for most of the bloom, and Nonpareil seemed to benefit the most. Even though dry again, there seemed to be very good chilling hours accumulated.

The downside was bees were very expensive, but the silver lining — almond prices seemed to be about the same as last year. It looks like prices may hold and just cover increased costs, as market demand stays ahead of another billion-pound crop. Fortunately weather was generally good and so many costs such as bees, fuel, and fungicide use were not devastating.

As in all agriculture, air, water and labor regulations continue to add cost pressure. Consolidation of operations at all levels continues. The bloom was moderately paced compared to some years and a little variable in some varieties and sites. The second dry and cold winter didn’t help, but yields were still good. The season progressed with a relatively low level of insects and mite problems and a little less incidence of lower limb dieback.

The upside of 2008 has been the continued increase in demand for almonds and more recognition of the potential dietary benefits of almond consumption. Cautious optimism seems justified.

On another note we are starting to implement the Pest Management Alliance II (PMAII) in San Joaquin County. This is a follow-up to the original PMA and will build on developing more information on alternative IPM strategies including reliable but more convenient monitoring, newer materials and timings and getting the information out quickly to more growers.

To that end, Daniel Rivers will be housed in our office and working with me on the statewide project in cooperation with the advisors in Madera and Sutter-Yuba counties. Give Dan or me a call if you have questions or want to make sure you are on our mailing list for meetings and the latest information.

Fall checklist -If the orchard didn’t get a good irrigation after harvest or it has been a while since applied water, a light irrigation just before or after any fall rains may be helpful.

-If water penetration has been a problem, a fall gypsum application or a fall lime application in low pH soils can help winter rains soak in, but springtime is often better with first irrigation.

- No nitrogen should be applied now, but potassium can be applied now or early next year, as it won’t move through the soil like nitrogen can.

-Pruning is okay, but not on young trees. In general less pruning is necessary than previously thought to keep production up, especially if the budget is tight. Even skip it for a year.

-Mark trees or limbs which are more easily seen as needing to be removed before next spring.

-Note any problem weed species to make decisions about herbicide or weed control strategies.

-Review your delivery sheets and try to determine exactly what caused the damage (worms versus ants or shrivel or maybe just chipped nuts).

-Renew your Ag Waiver Discharge membership.

-Update your air pollution mitigation plan if you have 100 acres or more in a single vineyard.

-Also, review your pesticide use reports and get everything up to date as there is continued interest in making sure agriculture is held ”accountable” for any and all problems real or perceived that could be traced back to orchard sites.

-Think about a dormant spray if it has been more than three to five years and worm or early season mites or possibly scale has become more evident. Although dormant copper sprays have never been proven to prevent blast, there may still be some benefit to suppress an increasing incidence in your orchard. Remember to avoid dormant sprays just before a rain, especially near waterways or natural drains.

-Check orchard or areas where beehives are placed for any suspicious ant mounds that are very big and/or have different looking “red ants”. The red imported fire ant is spreading.