From the Fields®

Issue Date: March 14, 2018
By Shaun Crook, Tuolumne County forester

We are about ready to go out into the woods to start our spring timber activities. Typically, in the timber industry, we don't harvest in the wintertime. We are usually doing maintenance on our equipment, making bids to purchase timber and getting things lined up for the summer season.

What's been different about this year is that there have been some operations that have been able to continue working on lower-elevation timber, working near urban areas and other places that have been more accessible. So, people have been seeing more logging trucks than usual in the winter. At our operation, we are working on our equipment and getting ready to start harvesting. We will have to see what the latest storms have to say about that.

Regarding tree mortality, we are probably in our third or fourth year of dealing with the bark beetle infestation. The farther south that you go from Sacramento, the worse it has been. So, a lot of companies have been doing salvage operations, either from fire or the bark beetle. The best way to control the bark beetle is through proper management. If we had a forest that was managed and in a position to prevent the bark beetle, we would have a much better chance of controlling this invasive species.

Right now, lumber prices are as high as they have been since 1993. They are not as good as 1993 if you adjust for inflation, but between floods, hurricanes and fires, there is a lot of rebuilding that is going on and the demand for lumber is very high.

Issue Date: March 14, 2018
By Sean Curtis, Modoc County diversified farmer

We are in the middle of calving season. The weather was good most of the time, but it got a little nastier the last couple weeks. But still, all in all, the weather has been fairly good.

Hay supplies have been a little tight, if someone is looking for some. Besides that, it is still a little bit early in the season for farming, although there was a little bit of farming in January if a grower had some sandy ground. But the winter weather has come back in. It looks like there are some storms coming in the next couple weeks. Hopefully, those storms will replenish the reservoirs that are looking a little low at the moment. The snowpack is looking low as well.

It is early for anybody to do anything with putting in crops. That generally waits until April.

We are seeing some significant movement of snow geese coming in, working on pastures and newly emerging grain crops that are just now popping up through the ground. These birds munch on the young plants. They really love meadows as well, and when we had the warm spell in January, everything greened up and the geese were loving that.

Issue Date: March 14, 2018
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Things have been pretty dry this fall and winter. This is such a contrast from the winter and spring of 2016-17. The California rice industry scene continues to be like a kaleidoscope: Just a little turn one way or the other, and the entire picture changes.

Here in the Colusa Basin near Maxwell and Delevan, we found ourselves with standing water in many of the fields well into May of 2017. As a result, we were not able to get everything timely planted and left significant acreage fallow. This was pretty common in the basins and flood-prone areas of the North State.

The lower planted acreage was a blessing in disguise, as grower returns for the 2016 crop (virtually a full-production year), were disappointing to say the least. The lower production anticipated from the 2017 rice crop resulted in the reduction of carry-over stocks from 2016 and earlier production, as well as strengthening prices.

What rice we did get planted yielded surprisingly well, with good milling yields, which was a little surprising given the long, hot summer.

With our ongoing problems with weed biotype resistance, particularly in the case of sprangle top, watergrass and smallflower umbrellaplant, the availability of several new crop protection materials in 2017 was truly welcome. These new materials seemed to work pretty well, although the price tags were quite a jolt.

Looking out to crop year 2018, a number of uncertainties loom: Will the improved prices for the 2017 crop year hold for another crop cycle, particularly if it turns out to be a big acreage year? As the number of countries around the world who have evolving medium-grain rice breeding programs increases (not to mention the Southern rice industry's planting decisions), will we be able to compete for those thin and volatile markets, given our high production costs in California?

As I write this, a wet pattern and some significant snowfall has finally returned to the state. Perhaps at least one vexing uncertainty, the question of water availability for irrigation for crop year 2018, might be answered on a positive note in the coming weeks.

Issue Date: March 14, 2018
By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County diversified grower

With all this dry weather, we were working some open ground we had. My kids were working in the almonds. They had spraying to do. We're doing pruning in the walnuts. Now that it's rained, we got a chance to do some mechanical work on stuff that needs to be fixed—drain some oil, do some servicing.

Looks like some more rain is coming. We're going to be spraying the almonds again because of the rain.

Once we finish pruning, we got guys stacking brush and we're digging out all the old, dead trees. I would say, basically, maintenance work. We got all the equipment fixed, ready for springtime.

We're hoping that we get rain this month, but the first of April it quits so we can start planting our crops. We'll plant some silage corn. We have tomatoes to plant, and we're going to be planting less tomatoes. The price just isn't that good. Last year, we took a big hit. Production was down. We're kind of cutting back this year and hoping things are better.

Working on drip tape, working on pumps that need to have filters put in for drip tape—we do all that ourselves. We don't hire anybody to do any of that work. We have a lot of things that we have to put in—pipelines; we have some of that to do this spring. We're getting everything set up so that when it gets dry enough, we can go ahead and install the projects that we have lined up.

We're just waiting for spring to come so we can start working.

Where we're at in San Joaquin County, we have a sufficient amount of surface water—out of Hogan up there—and we're getting some water out of Melones, too. Our groundwater's in pretty decent shape because we've had surface water now for a long time. It's really helped us maintain our groundwater level.

We've got a lot of issues—SGMA's coming along. We don't know how that's going to affect the groundwater, what rules are going to be put in place. They want to test all the domestic wells. So there's a lot of government things that are being brought along, which we're going to have to deal with. A lot of book work now—I have to do my nitrogen plan, my lands plan—so there's a lot of paperwork we never used to have to do. We're getting that done so we can have some time to farm.

The way costs are right now, we need good production and we need good prices just to break even. We don't need another year like last year, I can tell you that.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

The last few days we have been watching the frost and running water every night. Temperatures have dipped down to 25 or 28 degrees, depending on the location. We have seen some damage to the almonds, but we still have a few nights yet to go and we don't know the extent that the damage will be. We won't see the full effect until a week or so after the frost events are done.

Right now, we are hoping it warms up and that we get a little more moisture. Now, we are a little concerned about water availability this year. The Bureau of Reclamation just announced a small allocation for south of the delta, but didn't make any announcement about Northern California. Technically, as of March 1, we will have a zero allocation until they update their announcement. So, everyone is irrigating now to get some water into the ground before the start of the new water year.

The prunes are still holding tight, and it will probably be a couple more weeks before we see some bud break. So, it is way too early to make any kind of prediction.

We see a lot of maintenance in orchards around here. There is still a little pruning going on, but not a lot. There is also brush cleanup. Everyone is planning for the coming season.

The almond bloom on the early varieties was about a week ago and the later varieties are in full bloom. So, we are on the downhill side. During the early part of the season the bees were very busy, but once temperatures fall below 55 degrees, the bees don't want to fly.

The bloom was good and tight with a lot of varieties blooming at the same time, so there was good cross-pollination, which we need in the almonds.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Celeste Alonzo, Riverside County vegetable grower

It's been an interesting time in the desert, weatherwise. Temperatures have been in the 80s with a 5- to 10-degree swing, which is very rare for this time of the year. This warmer weather will bring our crops to harvest sooner.

Our peppers and eggplant were planted in mid-December, corn was planted at the end of January and green beans were planted on first week of January. Our crops will be harvested eight to 10 days earlier, but it could possibly affect the market in a positive way. Potatoes and green beans will be harvested at the end of March, bell peppers and eggplant during the first week of April and corn in mid-April.

Fellow Riverside County YF&R member Henry Johnson from Sunworld International also states that table grapes in the desert see an early season on the horizon. Early bud break can lead to an early harvest.

This warmer weather is definitely going to make for an interesting spring harvest in the Coachella Valley.

Last week, we went from high 80s to low 70s within three days. There was a freeze last week but we just had one yesterday and today (Feb. 25-26), and these definitely did more damage. This freeze will definitely affect the quality of our crops.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County diversified grower

The good news and bad news is that the lack of rain that we so badly need has created a lot of opportunities to do some things this winter that we frequently don't get to do, including spraying strips in the walnut orchard. We still have some pruning to do, but a lot of things have been done that can't be done when it is wet. The frost hasn't hurt anything here, as everything is still dormant. Almonds may have a little damage. The grapes around me are still tight, so I don't anticipate any problem for them.

On the turkey side, we enjoyed the good winter and mild temperatures. I have a flock going to market next week. The birds have very good weights and quality because of the good weather and the feed. We are getting ready for our poults to come in this week or next, so we are hoping for some continued good weather so they can start growing. On the poultry side, there is growth and activity at the national level where it seems like whatever we produce, the markets are there to consume it. So, things look good on that aspect. We continue to enjoy low grain prices. I know they won't stay down forever, and when they do go up, it will put some stress on the market.

We also have lambs, but the hot summer last year kind of put a dent in conception rates, and we have ended up with very few lambs being strung out over three or four months rather than two months. That means we will have some late lambs that we will have to figure out how to sell.

With farming, it is either weather or something that always creates challenges.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Brian Fedora, Colusa County diversified grower

After such a wet winter last year, who would have thought this year would be the exact opposite? Once again, we are looking in the face of water cutbacks. At some point, this state has got to approve some new water storage projects.

However, with such a dry winter we have gotten through the winter pruning and strip sprays without any problems. We are ahead of schedule and that is a positive. We are finishing the winter work and starting to look ahead to mowing and turning on the irrigation earlier than expected due to lack of rain. We need a good moisture profile when the trees start to push in a few weeks.

This current cold spell does have us worried. The almond and peach blossoms may have been hit really hard. Anyone that could turn on the water to try and help fend off the cold did, but I am concerned damage still may have happened. Time will tell. Hopefully, any damage will be minimal. The other concern with the bloom is if the bees had enough time to work on the bloom.

As always in farming, Mother Nature has something to throw our way and make it interesting.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Jeff Frey, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

In the Santa Maria/Santa Ynez area, we have bud break on early-prune, early varieties and are just finishing pruning others.

No rain this winter has led to considerable winter irrigation, and our wells are still at very low levels because of our meager rainfall last winter and years of drought.

Labor is tight with competition among grapes, strawberries, cane berries and vegetables. There's not much attention from wineries looking for fruit this season. We are not anticipating increased demand unless something changes.

Issue Date: February 28, 2018
By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

It has been snowing in Covelo, which is a little bit colder than normal. And it has been dry everywhere else. We are continuing with our winter activities, fixing machinery and that sort of thing as we get ready for spring. We started calving out and they are doing well. The bulls will go out with the cows in about five weeks and then we will turn out on the forest grazing permit after that.

We are turning out at 50 percent of our herd numbers because of the current water situation. And I don't see any recovery at this point in time. It isn't that big a deal for us because our herd numbers are still down quite a bit from the last couple of droughts. So, it's not like I have to turn around and sell half the cows in order to accommodate this. We are trying to bring our herd numbers back up, but Mother Nature isn't cooperating.

The feed is short and luckily we only have about half the cows that we would like to have. I have quite a bit of hay left over from last year and, depending on how short the hay is this year, I may not cut any of it and I may just have it grazed. The hay could recover if we get some rain in March and April, but I don't think that is going to happen.

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