From the Fields®

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

The harvest of the 2016 rice crop was challenging this year, with several significant rain events causing a good bit of lodging and slowing things down to a crawl. We finished around the 20th of October and managed to get everything chopped, but with fields wet from the rains, we were not able to get a disc and roller across the fields as was our design.

Our field yields were good, with milling yields ranging from below average to exceptional. Along with the vexing problems associated with weed biotype resistance to several crop protection materials, particularly in the case of sprangletop, there were a number of fields that were infected with blast disease. Oddly enough, the fields showing the worst infestations were fields that had been fallowed the previous year. Fortunately, the fields treated for blast responded very well, both in yield and quality.

We just had a soaking rain and some encouraging snowfall. Shasta is currently at 73 percent of capacity and according to the Department of Water Resources Jan. 3 snow survey, the moisture content is 53 percent of normal. This is pretty encouraging for both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for the coming year.

The California rice industry is facing significant challenges. With another big crop and a marketplace that seems to be awash in product priced below what California growers can afford to sell for, it is a classic cost-price squeeze situation. Ironically, California produces what is clearly the world's finest rice, not currently commanding the premium that it deserves or what California growers must have as the higher cost operators we are.

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

Winter has set in heavy along the Central Coast. As a result, grapes are being pruned back and most of our fields have been plowed and spring planting has already begun.

Most strawberry planting is complete and the estimate is that we may see yet another small drop in acres under cultivation for 2017. I've heard that organic ground in the Salinas Valley may drop for the first time in nearly two decades.

Growers continue to discuss regulation tied to water resources given implementation of the new Groundwater Sustainability Act. The local farming community is very proud of the incredible working relationship in place with local government in this arena.

Labor remains tight in all sectors of local agriculture. Growers that pay a premium and provide housing continue to remain at the top of the heap. The nursery sector remains in fluctuation. I swear we are only now starting to recover from the housing recession of 2009. As always, we welcome another coming season with optimism and appreciation.

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

Things are looking good up here on the North Coast. We are getting a lot of rain, which is resulting in a lot of grass. The fall gathering of our herd is completed, and now we have moved back into the shop working on some winter projects.

Calving should start here shortly and we are looking forward to getting a good crop of hay this spring. We could still not have a good hay crop if we don't get the March and April rains. So we are loving the rain and we hope to see more of it.

Beef prices are down from what they were the last two years. The last two years have been kind of a treat for us. The prices kind of bottomed in October, but they have worked their way back, not to the levels we had last year, but they have worked their way back enough that we are kind of close to what I put in my budget. I am retaining a lot of heifers this year rather than selling them.

We are looking forward to a prosperous 2017.

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo vegetable grower

The year didn't end with a very good bang like we had hoped for. Usually, we hope for a spike in the Thanksgiving market depending on where we ship and we saw a little bit of a spike, but not what we had hoped. Supplies were plentiful because late-summer and fall weather was mild with excellent growing conditions, so production was good. There were small bumps in price for certain commodities, but we were counting on making this a better year.

Outside of that, the early rains are promising. We'll see what happens for the rest of the season. I know in years past we've had a good start and it was like somebody turned off the tap and we don't get anything for the rest of the year. Everybody is cautiously optimistic. We could get a very significant amount of rain that could cause some localized flooding. At this point in time, we'll take just about anything. Any amount of water is viewed as a desirable thing.

We are still harvesting some of our last plantings from last season, some Chinese Napa cabbage, bok choy, baby bok choy, and some parsley, cilantro and spinach. We are planting for the spring harvest right now. These weekly rains could make it a challenge and right now in a lot of cases we have to plant on our sandier ground, which is what we usually hold for the wet weather. That may affect us later on when we have wet weather to stay on our planting schedule.

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Brian Fedora, Colusa County orchardist

Over the weekend at my shop, I got a little over 3 inches of rain and some standing water on the roads. However, Shasta Dam is at 70 percent and Lake Oroville is at 60 percent. These reservoirs can take a lot of water before this is a panic situation. It's like we've had this drought for so long, they've forgotten what a normal winter is and this is pretty normal. By law, once we get into warning stages, (irrigation districts) are mandated to drive the levees and make sure there are no breaks or boils. We're not even at warning stages yet.

On the farm, my full crew is working and we're doing maintenance. I'm trying to keep my guys working because they need to keep food on the table. But you can't get out into the field at all. I have winter pruning to do, but with 3 inches in the orchard, you can't get in there. Once the ground dries out, we will be doing more winter pruning of walnuts and start strip spraying and some winter fertilization. I've got plenty of work; it's just a matter of Mother Nature giving me the opportunity.

Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower

Rain has been good, but two weeks of Santa Ana winds were just a devil. We estimate that a third of the avocado crop went on the ground in two nights. At my house wind was blowing 50 to 60 mph, but at the top of the ranch it had to be going 80 mph, I mean, just whole trees losing all of their fruit.

It's really hard on the lemons, too. The lemons are tough and hang on, but the thorns turn them into pin cushions. The tree is just wracked back and forth, so the load is just swinging. The first pack-out after the wind we were at 20 percent Sunkist.

We had two weather events: one after Christmas and one after New Year's. We ran the wind machines on Christmas Eve, so we were having a cold snap and we got through that and the winds just broke loose. It was very frustrating. We still had fruit on the trees and we were going to start picking the big fruit on Monday, and it hit Sunday night. I was talking to my mom, who is 90, who said this reminds her of a time in 1965, so this isn't new. It's happened before.

We were expecting to have 2 inches of rain last night and we ended up having only three-quarters of an inch, so the storm didn't exactly pack the punch that we were promised. The news reported that last December was the wettest December for Los Angeles since 2005. Yes, we're getting some rain, but it needs to be sustained and higher volumes to fill the dams.

Issue Date: December 21, 2016
By Jennifer Clarke, Monterey County vegetable grower

Farmers are happy to be getting some rain. It is coming in nice waves that allow for the rainwater to soak in before the next round, so we've seen no flooding or runoff on our ranches. Of course, that means the fields are muddy and we have to work around those conditions as we start planning for the 2017 season.

Lettuce planting will start after Dec. 21 when the lettuce mosaic virus host-free period ends for lettuce, endive and escarole. The Monterey County agricultural commissioner, in collaboration with CDFA, has enforced the host-free period to break disease life cycles or prevent disease establishment.

Lettuce mosaic virus is a seed-borne disease. No lettuce seed may be planted in the county unless it has been tested and found to have no more than zero virus in 30,000 seeds.

This was a tough year in Salinas. There was a lot of competition from other states and some oversupply, which led to low FOB prices. Let's pray for better market prices in 2017.

On the labor side, those of us with piece-rate operations have been very busy with AB 1513, also known as "safe harbor," which went into effect at the beginning of this year. AB 1513 added a new section to the Labor Code concerning piece-rate compensation and was designed to resolve unsettled controversies over how to compensate piece-rate workers during mandated rest and recovery periods and other work time that does not generate piece-rate earnings. This has kept our office staff buried in calculations while trying to keep up with their normal, day-to-day work.

Issue Date: December 21, 2016
By Dave Roberti, Sierra County rancher

We are preparing for winter. Things are starting to get cold, which is what you expect in the Sierra. We had a really good October, with lots of rain. Now the ground is starting to freeze up. It has been running about 12 to 15 degrees every morning. As of early December, there wasn't any snow on the ground, but we will be getting some soon, I'm sure.

We got a lot of fall farming done this year. Right now, we are mostly feeding cattle and taking care of our cattle operation. We are probably overstocked with cattle right now and we probably need to trim down a little bit. We always retain some heifers.

We are shipping some hay, still. We have quite a bit of hay still to ship, but fortunately it is all sold. We had a decent hay year this year. The yields were about average, but the quality of the hay tested higher. With the high test, we were able to get a high price for our hay, even though the market is down.

We didn't have any thunderstorms this year and nothing got rained on, which is very rare, especially when compared to last year, when we had about a quarter of the hay rained on. We are also doing some equipment maintenance and field work.

Issue Date: December 21, 2016
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We noticed that this year the crop was above average in size in some areas and below average in other areas. For us, it was below average because of the spring thunderstorms that we had, with heavy rains during bloom.

The good thing is that it is wonderful quality throughout the entire Sierra foothills region because of the lack of fall rains. We were able to get the entire crop in and it is looking like the best quality crop here since 1997. Currently, everything is in the tank and primary fermentation is complete.

We did notice with labor this year that this was the most difficult and most expensive year in memory. A lot of growers actually had crews walking off when they found places to work where the wages were a little higher.

The walnuts came in at a very bountiful size, but with smaller nuts on the trees. And with almost 12 inches of rain to date, the pastures are really lush and green for the beef producers.

Issue Date: December 21, 2016
By Donny Rollin, Fresno County dairy farmer

Going forward, what will the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek do to my employees? Will I have to cut way back on all of these guys in order to have cash flow? And if I do cut back their hours, can I keep them and their families or will they go somewhere else?

We are three-times-a-day milking and we are 24/7, 365 days a year. So there is not a down second in the workday. I have three crews that milk for me. Labor is always an issue, having enough people.

In the old days, I would have three or four guys coming by every week looking for work. I had people say they would do anything and that they have a family to feed and just need a job. And since about 2012, I may have a guy starting to work for me and then decide it is too much work and just walk away. There has been a really big shift in the labor force concerning what someone is willing to do.

Our guys are six days a week, so this overtime provision will have a big impact. The way I figure it is that if a guy is making $12 an hour and he's six days a week, 10 hours a day, and I go to five days, eight hours a day, that is $240 less per week for that guy to feed his family with. That's more than $900 a month less in his pocket if we have to cut back to the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek.

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