Warmer temperatures are what the Tri-Cities needs to really kick off the agricultural season.
Alfalfa hay is leafing out, apple blossoms are blooming and some once dead-looking grape vines are dripping sap.
Across the Mid-Columbia, perennial crops are waking up, while some annual crops including potatoes and chickpeas are being planted.
Workers already are harvesting the Mid-Columbia's first crop -- asparagus. But even asparagus needs some warmer days before most growers start harvesting the fields daily.
But the week is expected to start out on the cooler side, with some frost possible in the next few days, said Nic Loyd, Washington State University's AgWeatherNet meteorologist.
He said the frost expected this weekend could be the first critical drop in temperatures this season because of the development spurred earlier this month by some almost 80-degree days.
At Manterola Farms north of Pasco, David Manterola's alfalfa hay is just reaching about 10 inches tall. It has a ways to go before it reaches waist height, or about 3 feet, when Manterola said he and his workers will cut the field for the first of four times.
Farmers expect to cut their first hay by May 10, he said. Normally, the first cutting tends to get rained on, lowering its value.
Hay is Washington's fourth most valuable crop, after apples, wheat and potatoes.
Last year was an excellent year for alfalfa, Manterola said. Most of the Columbia Basin's hay is grown for export, mainly to Japan.
At Middleton Organic Orchards near Eltopia, Gary Middleton said it hasn't been warm enough lately to see much bee activity around his cherry trees.
His apple trees have the main King blossoms opening. Those blooms have the potential to be the largest, and are in a cluster with four other smaller blooms, called side blooms.
The blossoms are where the fruit will grow, after pollination. But the temperature needs to reach about 55 degrees so the bees will get to work instead of staying in their hives, Middleton said.
His cherries and blueberries may be ready for harvest near the end of June, while the apples won't be ready until August.
"Last year was a blessing that we really needed," he said about his 100 acres of organic fruit.
Despite having the largest ever state apple crop, Washington farmers still got good prices because of shortages in other apple growing areas. Apples are Washington's top crop, valued at $1.8 billion in 2011. The state grows the most apples, blueberries and sweet cherries in the nation.
Middleton said he hopes more export markets will open to Washington apples, increasing the demand.
Dick Boushey is expecting strong demand for Washington's juice and wine grapes this year. There is a shortage of juice grapes, said Boushey, who serves on the board of National Grape, the farmers' cooperative that owns Welch's.
Washington grows the most juice grapes in the nation, and is second when it comes to wine grapes.
Grape vines hurt by frost in 2010 and 2011 should be recovered, allowing growers to possibly have a record wine grape harvest, he said.
"This year we are very optimistic because we had such a mild winter," he said.
At Boushey Vineyards near Grandview, he grows 87 acres of juice grapes and 150 acres of wine grapes. Boushey said his juice grapes and some of his wine varieties have already reached bud break, where the bud swells, and starts to open.
Most potato planting in the Tri-City area is done, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission.
Harvest, which normally begins about July 5 and continues into November, may start later this year because farmers are planting fewer early varieties because of a glut of potatoes on the market, he said.
About 155,000 acres of potatoes likely will be planted in the state this year -- about 10,000 fewer than last year, he said. Processing and fresh potatoes will be down.
Last year was miserable for fresh potato growers, with potatoes selling at about half the cost of production, Voigt said.
Most of Washington's potatoes are processed, into products such as french fries. Those farmers tend to have contracts for a certain price. Voigt said the contract price is up, but not enough to make up for increased costs.
Washington farmers are planting more chip stock potatoes this year, which will be turned into chips, especially in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Voigt said exports have increased demand for those potatoes, which represent about 10 percent of what farmers grow.
So far, the weather has been perfect for planting. Farmers need highs of 65 to 75 degrees during the day and nights with lows near 40 for optimal potato growing.
In Walla Walla, Gary Ferrel of Ferrel Seed Farms started planting garbanzos, also called chickpeas, this week.
Farmers have to wait for soil temperature to reach 48 to 50 degrees so the seeds will germinate.
Ferrel said he'll plant about 9,000 acres this year, about 1,000 more than last year.
The increase in demand caused by the hummus market has prompted some farmers to plant more garbanzos.
Washington grows the most garbanzos in the nation.
Last year, Ferrel said the garbanzo crop was the best yielding one he's seen in 20 years. May and June rains are critical so that there is enough moisture to carry the crop to harvest, which usually starts around mid-August.
Last year, some of Washington's crops hit major milestones, with growers experiencing their largest ever apple crop and record harvests for chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon and merlot grapes -- the big four in the state's wine industry.
Washington's crops set a record high for value of $9.4 billion in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The full value of the state's 2012 agricultural production is not yet calculated.
But last year, some export markets opened further to U.S. crops, including China allowing in U.S. pears, said Hector Castro, communications director for the state Department of Agriculture. Washington is number one in the nation when it comes to growing pears.
While 2012 had some weather that caused concern for crops, overall, the year turned out well for Washington agriculture, he said.
Hiring for seasonal agricultural employment is starting to warm up, said Michelle Mann, with WorkSource Columbia Basin. The Kennewick office’s annual agricultural job fair is May 23.
Mann said she doesn’t expect to see many job orders from growers until the weather gets better.
Peak agricultural employment usually is during the second and third quarter of the year. In 2012, there were 14,441 jobs from April to June in Benton and Franklin counties, and 16,275 jobs from July to September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.