From the Fields®

Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County hay and grain farmer

We haven't had much rain this year. I grow a forage mix for the horse market—mainly grain and hay. I'm cutting it right now. I'm probably going to cut about half of what I planted. It's pretty poor, even that.

Last year wasn't too bad, but for the last five years, it's been really tough. When you dry farm and you only get 6 1/2 inches of rain, nothing grows very well. I average about 12 inches here, but I haven't seen that in six years. All this talk of El Niño—the northern state did pretty well, but not the southern state.

A little bit west of me, a flash flood went through in mid-October and it brought another couple of inches of rain. And the fields I have up there are a little bit better; they're worth cutting—maybe half to three-quarters of a ton an acre. That's not saying much, when my average here is about a ton and a quarter, but I don't know what average is anymore. That's what I'm cutting now.

About half I'm going to abandon and just put my cows on it. But I don't have many cows anymore. I used to have about 30 head about five years ago, but I've been selling them off to pay for feeding the rest of them. I'm barely hanging on here; it's really changed my operation a lot.

I have a lot of old vehicles and buildings around, so film crews do some filming here on the property. In fact, I'm waiting on a film scout to show up any minute now. They do commercial shoots and fashion shoots. I'm on a film guide and a lot of people who've been here know about me. Word of mouth is a lot of it. I maybe do half a dozen things a year.

I had a Honda Ridgeline commercial here a couple of weeks ago, and they were here for four days. That pays the bills for a few months and helps me out. I've had four things this year—actually, in the last couple of months. There was an AT&T commercial they did. During production, there'll be 80 to 100 people here, and then you see the commercial and it'll be a two-second shot.

Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

The recent spring rains have the Sierra foothills flourishing, from the green grass swaying on the pastures to the marching rows of winegrapes. Sporadic areas were affected and harmed by regional thunderstorms and hail, but overall we're looking at an above average 2016 vintage.

So far the cluster counts are bountiful, with doubles and wings prevalent. As we are now entering bloom and no rain on the horizon, the flowers should be able to set into fruit-producing clusters.

After five years of drought, we were finally able to have enough precipitation to do some needed replanting this year. In hindsight, it was a blessing for us all to get our tractors stuck in the mud, and post the dilemma on Facebook.

In the regulatory realm, we're looking forward to Farm Bureau protecting us from overburdensome regulations and laws.

Here's a toast to pushing the plow with our fellow farmers, family and friends, and to bountiful harvest in 2016.

Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Robert Vlach, Glenn County cattle rancher and Colusa County rice farmer

On the beef, our winter ground is in western Glenn County and this spring has been pretty good. We've received a lot of rain. All the stock ponds are filled up. The cattle look really good coming off the winter range.

We're shipping them right now to Bieber, which is in Northern California, for summer pasture. The feed up there looks pretty good as well. All and all on the grass side of things, we're in pretty good shape.

Calving percentages are good. We're leaving a little feed behind to come back to the following year, which is always a good thing. There's hardly anything to complain about.

On the rice, everything is planted or just about planted. Fortunately, we were able to get in early and get things planted prior to the rainstorms, so that worked out really well for us, considering the late rains we had in May. I know a lot of people in Glenn and Colusa counties are still trying to get everything done. For us, planting went really smoothly and the ground worked up really well.

On the water side of things, all the irrigation districts in our part of the world are getting 100 percent allocations. I imagine across the valley everything will be planted, which is a good thing.

Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer

The rain/feed year has, for us in Mariposa County, been better than we have seen in some time. There is water in the stock ponds, the cows are in belly-deep grass and the calves are on track to meet or exceed our weight projections.

The fly in the ointment this year is pricing. The market for our calves here in California is marginal at best, compared to prices received last year. However, some perspective needs to be placed on that statement.

Prior to the 2014 and 2015 marketing seasons, the prices we received for our calves were very good and well received. That said, last year a light six-weight steer "roughly" commanded prices in the mid-$2-per-pound range, while this year a 600-pound steer calf is bringing right around $1.50 to $1.65 per pound based upon recent video-market pricing.

This is due primarily, but not limited, to basic supply-and-demand factors, while the stocker and feedlot sectors of the industry are still licking their wounds from suffering some pretty significant losses starting in the late summer/fall of 2015 and proceeding into the current market.

Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Mike Jani, Mendocino County forester

We're moving in to the beginning of logging season. It appears that at least redwood prices are a little bit better than they were last year.

Among all forestland owners in the county, there's a great deal of consternation because of the state Fish and Game Commission and its deliberations over whether to list statewide the spotted owl, which has been listed for years at the federal level. That is probably going to be discussed at the next commission meeting. What effect that will have on operations is unknown at this time.

A county voter initiative called Measure V has qualified for the June ballot. It would declare dead-standing hardwood trees, the most prevalent of which is the tanoak, as a fire hazard and public nuisance. The initiative actually says "purposely killed" trees. What that's all about is that in the forest in Mendocino County, hardwood trees have in many cases taken over the forest and when we do restoration forestry to try to get the redwoods planted back in, we inject herbicide into these hardwood trees to kill them. We leave them standing out in the forest so when they decompose, they add nutrients back into the soil.

We're got a group of activists out on the coast and their only interest is in stopping herbicide use in the county, and so they're using this fire hazard thing as a surrogate. It would seriously curtail the ability of forest landowners to control hardwood and therefore set a precedent for expansion possibly into other parts of the agricultural industry in the county, which is something that's been overseen by the state for decades. Our county Farm Bureau is actively involved in opposition to the measure and is trying to get information out to our members.

Issue Date: May 4, 2016
By Greg Meyers, Fresno County tree crop farmer

Almonds are my primary crop. We have some pistachios, but there's not a lot going on there. We have some olives for olive oil. The olives are going into bloom right now. We're organic olives, so we can't use any conventional fertilizers and herbicides.

On the almonds, we're doing our May spray for mite control and navel orangeworm. We're irrigating as well. We're prepping the floors in the orchards, getting them smoothed out. We're doing weed control.

Water is probably the biggest nightmare that we're all facing right now on the Westside. A lot of information is coming out from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation about trying to fill San Luis Reservoir. A lot of growers have purchased very expensive water that they may end up losing if the bureau fills the reservoir. In other words, there will be no carryover water left in the system.

We have a lot of carryover water. I'm going to use as much as I possibly can so that when I start out next year, I essentially will have a zero balance on my account. A lot of growers are planning to do the same thing. But that sets you up asking, what's our allocation going to be for 2017? It's completely up in the air.

We require 3-1/2 to 4 acre-feet of water to get through an entire year of mature almonds. We're not going to have 100 percent allocation, so I'll still have to find a considerable amount of water. If I'm able to carry over more water, then the amount of water I have to find will be a lot less. The average price of that carryover water is about $850 an acre-foot. In my district alone, growers stand to lose 35,000 acre-feet for a loss of $29 million worth of water. It's already been bought and paid for; it's stored in the reservoir to be used this year. If the reservoir fills, that 35,000 acre-feet is wiped off the books.

We don't have groundwater to fire up pumps on, at least my ranch doesn't. Now that almond prices have dropped, to go out and buy $850 water with nut prices being so low, it doesn't work.

Issue Date: May 4, 2016
By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County dairy farmer and winegrape grower

On the dairy, we're going through quite a change because we're going from conventional to organic, so we're in the transition phase. We're nine months into it; it takes a year for the cows and three years to transition the land. At this point, all my heifers coming in are organic. I have two tanks that keep the milk separated, with two strings of cows. By August, we'll be fully organic. On my land, we were able to go back and get it certified; it's been organic. We've never used any commercial fertilizers or sprays. We'd always used our dairy manure for fertilization. We were lucky in that way.

I grew up in a conventional dairy business and we've always been conventional, but now it's gotten to the point where the milk prices are so low that we just can't survive, so going organic is a tool that we could use over here in the coastal region, because we do have pasture. So it just became prudent we move into it. Over here in Sonoma and Marin counties, there's only a handful left that are not organic. It's basically the same in the Humboldt-Ferndale area; that's the other area that's almost all organic also.

I'm shipping to one of our local creameries. I've been with it now for four or five years. It made it easy that way because it buys both organic and conventional milk.

The price of organic milk is set by the creamery and it's well above the state minimum price. It's set by contract. It's a competitive price for organic because all the creameries in this area are paying within 50 cents or so a hundredweight of the same price.

The organic rule is set at 120 days of pasture a year, and last year with the drought, the rule was eased up a little bit because we didn't get any rain. I haven't been in it long enough to experience that, but that is a concern if we get drought years. This year, we have lots of good grass because we've had rain. The feed is doing real well out in the fields.

The grapes are growing really well. I think we're a little bit ahead of normal schedule. We didn't have any frost at all this year. We didn't have the wind machines for frost protection. We've had some really nice, warm days, so the vines are growing really rapidly. We're really busy suckering and moving the catch wires up, because the vines are growing so fast. We've had to spray a couple of times already for botrytis and powdery mildew—just the normal management practices.

The demand for the grapes is good. I think most everybody has got contracts for their grapes. We got huge crops in 2013 and 2014, but last year the crop up here in the Sonoma and Napa area was off 25-30 percent. We haven't gotten to bloom yet, but it looks like it'll be a good, average crop.

Issue Date: May 4, 2016
By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and cherry grower

Here in San Joaquin County, cherry harvest is underway. Unfortunately, it is the fourth year in a row with a very light crop of cherries. There are many theories, such as one winter being extremely cold and dry, inadequate chilling hours the next year, too hot during pollination, and this year rain during bloom. So take your pick on theories.

As far as the vineyards go, we are falling in the same pattern as last year with early bud break, which will probably lead to an early harvest.

Most of the tying of vines and suckering has been completed or is nearly completed. Shoot thinning on certain varietals has started and will be completed in the next couple of weeks.

With cherries and grapes being labor-intensive, we are concerned about the proposed overtime legislation and how it could affect us in the future.

Prevention of mildew is the main concern as far as diseases. Crop production products are applied on a seven-to-10-day interval.

As far as rainfall goes, we are about normal. But unfortunately, in the northeastern portion of San Joaquin County, for the fifth consecutive year, we will not be receiving surface water.

Issue Date: May 4, 2016
By David Richter, Sutter County diversified grower

We were a little bit late getting started on planting our crops. We're about a week behind on everything. That was because of the wet beginning of March, which we desperately needed.

We're currently transplanting and cultivating tomatoes. We are about halfway done with our acreage on that. We missed the hail in our area. There was nothing in our immediate area. But as I always say, if you missed it this time, it'll come back around and get you later.

We do still plant some fields by seed on tomatoes; we still have one field of seed to plant. That goes last because the availability of some of the seed varieties is limited. They have new fusarium disease-resistant varieties and they're limited right now in quantities.

We are just buttoning up our planting on corn. This is grain corn, but it's for human consumption. It's white corn. I think we have one more field to plant, and it's because it's next to the bypass and the ground is still a little bit wet. Believe it or not, we still have a little bit of wet ground here and there along the bypass levees, just because you get a little bit of seepage and it tends to be heavier ground in there.

We will be finishing planting our sunflowers by the end of this week. We have what they call a second planting because of isolation problems, but that'll be down the road. We're just starting to flood the first rice fields and continuing ground work on the rice.

The wheat is coming along and it looks like we'll have a good crop. Ours is not irrigated. We felt it had enough moisture and it was going to make it on its own this year. It's next to the bypass and we were actually concerned that it might get too wet, but it didn't.

We haven't started planting our dry beans yet. We'll probably start pre-irrigating for our dry beans this week. Toward the middle of May, we'll start some specialty vine-seed crops, mainly watermelons, cucumbers and squash.

We have 100 percent water available this year. For us, being so diversified, water wasn't an issue last year either. Our water district had 75 percent supply and we fit within our allotment on the crops we raise, so we were fine.

Issue Date: April 20, 2016
By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

Bud break came early in Mendocino County and we have been playing catch-up ever since.

The pear crop looks average, with an extended bloom having just finished up. We have been busy spraying for blight and scab because of the mild and humid weather.

Winegrapes are about two weeks ahead of normal, but the great news is we have had very little frost, so our reservoirs are still full. Grapes in the North Coast are still a few weeks away from bloom depending on variety, but initial cluster counts look promising.

The market for both grapes and bulk wine has been strong since the end of February, with most growers being fully contracted with a few exceptions for certain varieties.

On the down side, it looks like labor costs are about 10 percent higher this year than last due to a number of factors.

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