No one is happy about gasoline prices at $2 and more per gallon, least of all growers, who also absorb big hikes in diesel fuel.

The California Tomato Growers Association provided some specifics on the impact of diesel prices, which are near the $2 level and double those of a year ago. The major operations from bed preparation through harvest for processing tomatoes drink 45 gallons for every acre.

According to the association, higher diesel costs, averaging $1.89 per ton of crop this season versus 91 cents last year, mean an increase of $33.75 per acre, or about $1 a ton.

Meanwhile, the August forecast for the California contracted processing tomato crop is 9.7 million tons, about 19 percent less than last year's record 11.9 million crop.

The forecast was funded by the California League of Food Processors in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Processors were surveyed about the amount of tomatoes they expect to process and the total harvested acreage to achieve that amount. This year's harvested acreage is 273,000, with average yield at 35.53 tons per acre.

According to the California Agricultural Statistics Service, rain in early March delayed some planting and slowed development of newly planted stands. Favorable weather in April, however, put the crop on its feet to make normal progress.

Temperatures both above and below average came during June, July, and August, the hotter weather causing some blossom end rot. But the harvest, which commenced in June, is considered to be progressing well. By August 19, the inspected tonnage was slightly above 5 million tons, about 9 percent more than the same date in 1999.

Nationally, USDA says contracted acreage for processing tomatoes is 291,400, down some 15 percent from 1999's 345,300. Yield is forecast at 35 tons per acre, off more than a ton-and-a-half from 1999. The indicated crop for 2000 is 10.2 million tons, down nearly 19 percent from last season.

In other crop forecasts from CDFA, the California upland cotton crop is pegged at 2 million bales, a gain of 27 percent from last year, from 765,000 acres for an average yield of 1,255 pounds per acre. The California Pima crop is estimated at 360,000 bales on 144,000 acres for a yield of 1,200 pounds.

The navel orange crop is expected to be 34,000 boxes, off 15 percent from last year, from 127,000 bearing acres. Fruit set is reported light, but fruit size is large as the crop advances in maturity and harvesting is anticipated to begin in mid-October.

California pistachios are forecast for a crop of 205 million pounds from 74,600 acres with a yield of 2,750 pounds, 59 percent more than 1999.

At the outset of harvesting in some areas, the California rice crop was forecast at 43.3 million cwt., an increase of 18 percent from 1999, and a yield of 7,900 pounds per acre. Favorable weather and minor problems from insects, disease, and weeds have meant good stands on the 548,000 acres to be harvested.

The sugar beet crop also enjoyed good weather conditions and is estimated at nearly 3.3 million tons, or 5 percent less than last year, from 99,000 acres, 8 percent less than 1999. The yield would be 33 tons, an increase of 3 percent over last season.

A GROUP of researchers at the University of California is taking a futuristic approach to controlling cotton weeds.

Last year, under a Cotton Incorporated State Support Program project, David C. Slaughter, Ross Lamm, Chris Gliever and Ron Vargas cumulated their research efforts to develop a small, robotic device and programmed it to differentiate between nutsedge weeds and cotton plants.

The robot's vision system snaps a black and white photo of the culprit weed, overlays the image on a grid spray map, indicates the targeted area with "Xs" and then sends a direct shot of spray to that area.

In commercial cotton fields, the robot correctly sprayed 88.8 percent of the weeds while correctly identifying and not spraying 78.8 percent of the cotton plants - all the while moving at the breakneck speed of 2 mph!