From the Fields®
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower
What a difference a year can make. Reduced water deliveries and idled rice ground has given way to full production once again. It was good to put all my tractors and implements back to work.
We had nice weather for planting, and had no problem getting the crop seeded in a timely manner. May was a bit cool and windy, and I have noticed a bit of wind damage in rice fields around my area (including my own). But the heat spell we had in late May and early June did wonders for the crop—it really moved along nicely.
Looking at my fields now, in early June, they all seem to be about where they should be. I have no fields that I'm super proud of—the stands are thinner than I would like—but I have no disasters on my hands either, so I'll settle for that.
With California being back to normal for its rice acres in 2016, it's going to make for interesting times in the rice market. Despite the reduced rice plantings in California the past several years, many warehouses still have rice in storage from the 2014 and 2015 crop years (and even a bit from 2013, I have heard). All that rice is going to have to move. We have 500,000 acres to harvest in the fall, and the warehouses will need to be empty to receive it all.
By Luke Wenger, Stanislaus County diversified grower
We started planting corn here a couple weeks ago. It is field corn, and there hasn't been a lot of field corn going in because prices are so low that a lot of guys are planting beans instead. The price of corn is not looking good, but a local dairy needs some feed, so we decided to throw it in.
The walnut crop looks decent this year. The price of walnuts is down, but the crop itself looks pretty solid. We are getting ready to do some husk fly spray, which will be coming up in a few days. The almonds are getting close to hull split. We will be applying hull split spray, and that's a sign that summer is moving along and we are getting close to harvest. It is amazing how fast it goes by.
We have a constant battle with weeds; it is never ending, especially with some of the new weeds that have been introduced here and are really tough to kill. So trying to stay on top of those is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.
So far, no problems with sunburn on the walnuts. We are seeing some broken limbs. Once you get those high temperatures, we start to get some breakage in the orchard.
This year, we are good on water. It isn't a problem this summer.
By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper
Over the last couple months or so, we have pollinated all of the tree crops. Now we are working on our hives, checking on the condition of the bees and requeening some of the hives. We continue to get ready for summer honey production and summer pollination.
The condition of the bees is very good and we made some excellent splits. We've requeened some of the queens. We've seen better years for that in the past, but the weather was OK. We had to requeen some of the hives several times in order to get a good queen.
Right now we are just working in that area. Most everything will be ready when the plants have enough feed and the bees start producing honey. The vetch bloomed well; the eucalyptus is just not around this year, probably due to the drought. It varies from place to place.
Honey production this year will be low. Once we get out of this drought, it will take a few years to get some of the plants back that bees depend on for honey production.
I think the bee industry will remain viable. With all of the almond plantings, bees will always be needed. Some people did pretty well and others didn't. It depended somewhat on where a person is located.
By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County diversified farmer
This time last year we were worried about water—ah, the difference a year makes.
We managed to somehow avoid any significant hail or rain issues this spring, so our area is in pretty good shape. We are into our third cutting for alfalfa, and the quality is fair to good, depending on how close to cutting it was during the recent heat wave. Pricing is considerably softer than last year, and we are all longing for the prices we received two years ago.
We just started cutting wheat, and it looks like it will be a decent crop. Luckily, we sold some of it last year, so we will average a reasonable price.
Our vineyard is growing, being trained and filling in; we are expecting our first harvest next year.
Our seed crops look good to excellent so far. Hybrid onions were well pollinated, and seem to be filling nicely. We received enough rain this winter to saturate our profile, so the safflower looks very good, especially if we can get temperatures below 95 during flowering, which is about two weeks away. Dichondra looks good too, and is on track for early July start of harvest.
Like everyone in California agriculture, we are looking for opportunities to mechanize labor-intensive tasks in order to minimize the impact of the minimum wage increase in the coming years.
By Brian Fedora, Colusa County orchardist
Summer has arrived, as we saw last week with our first 100-degree days. Winter and spring were very kind to us by providing some much needed rain and storage behind the dams.
That being said, since we have not had a wet spring for a few years, the weed growth has given us a handful. Mowing and spraying continue and look to be ongoing for the summer. Along with weed control, fertilization and watering are well underway.
The walnut crop looks to be pretty heavy. The Howard variety has limbs breaking, which is the norm, but we are also seeing broken limbs in other varieties as well as the Chandlers. Early predictions are for a very heavy crop in the North State. Should we see a heavy crop, we could also see a rise in insect issues. Hopefully, this is not the case and summer sprays will be kept at a minimum.
While a heavy crop is a good thing for all growers, an increase in price would also be nice to see. Last year, we saw the price fall to less than half of previous years. I am hopeful walnuts as well as all other commodities grown in California will see a bump. Enjoy your summer; let’s hope we can all bear the heat.
By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower
The dairy business here in the Central Valley continues to be in the tank. And at this point, there is no relief in sight. But on the upside, our water situation is the best it has been in some time. We farm in two districts, and both of them are looking at delivering a one-half acre-foot allotment over a four- to five-week timeframe. This is the first summer water in four years, and it will be very helpful.
This year's cotton crop looks good, with a few blooms popping. We are applying our first irrigation to the cotton. With the dairy in such a poor situation, the price of feed crops has dropped precipitously. We normally double crop behind wheat with corn, but this year we are growing blackeyes and cotton. We also removed significant acreage of alfalfa early, to make land available for the blackeyes.
Our pistachio crop looks excellent, and it might be the savior this year.
By Pat Borrelli, Merced County diversified grower
With our alfalfa, we're going to start our third cutting. The price of hay is down compared to last year. The yields are fair. It's been a trying year to put up good-quality hay, because we've had the rain that we need. We did not get any hay wet. We were all done when it came. But on some of the stuff, it got pushed down a little bit.
There are some guys around here, they've had quite a bit of their oats down that got wet and some alfalfa hay that got wet. A few weeks ago, we had almost an inch and three-quarters of rain. We had a hard time drying the hay. We had to bale some a little on the green side, just to get it out before it rained.
The cotton looks good. We were able to plant toward the later part of April. We were able to get it in and get it out before we got any more rain, so it looks really good. We're cultivating it now and getting ready to fertilize it.
We just finished planting some tomatoes. We just put the first irrigation on. They seem to be all right. The weather has been cool—below-average temperatures for this time of year. Our beans, we're just getting ready to plant them in another few days. We're just working the ground on that.
All our expenses are up—labor, parts, just across the board. But the price of all the commodities across the board is down. Milk is down, hay is down, almonds are down, almond hulls are down, oat hay is down. As long as I've been around this stuff, I've never seen where everything is down. You usually have a couple of things that are up. The dairy business is hurting, with the milk price down quite a bit.
The water situation is a little bit better for us in the Central California Irrigation District. We're able to get a little bit more water and pool it a little bit different, so that's helped out quite a bit. The district switched things around a bit to where we're able to pool some of our water together to where we're using more water right now than we will toward the end of the year. We're able to plant everything right now that we figured on planting. As far as us here in the CCID area, we're doing OK right now.
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower
We have begun the fourth cutting of alfalfa. The quality and yields are good, but demand continues to remain weak, as the price continues to drop. The dairy industry is struggling with very low prices.
We applied our last irrigation to the garlic in mid-May, with an anticipated harvest in mid-June. The onions will continue to be irrigated as the crop finishes out. The wheat harvest will begin in early June. The wheat crop looks good, but the "proof is in the pudding." Yields never lie. The silage corn should be ready to cut in mid-June.
It seems we have had an unseasonably cool May, but very windy. We are behind by approximately four days on the year-to-date heat unit accumulation.
By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher
All in all, this has been a good grass season. It was a good calf crop. Our area had a pretty good grass year. The rains just seem to come at the right time, so consequently, our calves look really good.
We're getting ready to ship calves to Texas to be on a feed program. They'll be leaving here in about another 20, 25 days. We're looking to having a good year.
The hay prices are down, so it looks like we're going to be in a good situation from the cattlemen standpoint. Hay people aren't going to like it, but the cattle people will like it.
Our water in our irrigation district has been cut back. We are all allocated approximately 3.8 acre-feet. So we're dealing with that. Of course, we're dealing with the groundwater issues. This groundwater thing is going to be an issue; there's no two ways about it. But all in all, it looks like it's been a pretty good beginning.
By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
As far as mechanization, we have been very aggressive over the last two months with all these regulations and minimum wage going up.
I am buying some leaf-pulling machines. Each machine that I buy will replace a 25-person crew for a six-week period of time. I bought other equipment that will replace my entire labor force to the tune of 5 percent during the winter months.
We are planting some new vineyards this fall that will have trellis systems that we are designing in a manner that will allow us to eliminate 80 percent of our labor. And then this winter, we are going to do a retrofit on some of our older vineyards as an experiment to see if we can retrofit those to achieve the same thing.
We machine-harvest our grapes and each one of our machine harvesters replaces 100 workers a day.
I am a farm labor contractor and yet I desperately want to do away with labor. We have been forced into that position.
We can’t just point our finger at minimum wage as the driving force. It is also the ag overtime regulations, the increase in Cal/ OSHA heat regs and much more. They are trying to do some nighttime regs, and there are just all the increases in labor laws and compliance.
This year is starting out to be another very early growing season, so we are anticipating that since we are on this pace we will have an early harvest—probably not too far off from last year. The crop looks to be average in terms of size. Right now, we are focusing on irrigation and fertilizing, and getting the crop ready to harvest. There was a little increased mildew pressure this spring. We were getting about a rain a week, which is good and we enjoyed the benefits. But is also caused us to increase the frequency for applying fungicides.
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