From the Fields®

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County organic dairy farmer

We are getting ready to sign a new contract with our milk company, so we have a little bit of changeover. Pastures are beginning to die off and the cows are in the barn.

The organic dairy market is decreasing in price right now because there is a lot of organic milk in the market. We actually went from $42 milk about a year and a half ago to $29. Our break-even price is like $32, so we are actually getting paid less than what it costs to produce the milk. We are considering possibly selling some cows and cutting back on our numbers.

Also, we are looking at labor costs and trying to decide whether to keep a guy or lose a guy. It is very difficult to decide to take a guy away from our operation and maybe not getting him back when we need to ramp up.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Wayne Vineyard, Placer County rancher and rice grower

We are about 90 percent done with calves on the ground. We have been feeding them a little hay, but this year, because of all the rain, we have had excellent grass. The rains came early and kept coming, so we got good grass and didn't have to give them supplemental feed quite as much as in some years. In this area, we were in a good situation, compared to areas south of Sacramento where they didn't get all the rains.

We keep about the same number of cows each year, and cycle out about 20 percent of the older cows every year in order to keep our same numbers, which are about all our pastures can support. The market is up a little bit, from what I have been reading. We sold our calves in August and September and prices have come up since then. We started out years ago with polled Herefords, but in recent years we have been doing more of the black cows, which is what the buyers seem to prefer. We had water this year and our water district gave us 100 percent water, so that really helped us with our feed.

Our rice was a couple weeks late getting in, but it came along fast and we were only about a week late in cutting. But we still had good yields. We got 82½ sacks per acre and we usually average around 80 sacks, so it was a good year. Our rice was pretty well standing, so we were able to cut it quite easily. We were all done by the first week of October and we beat the fall rains.

We could use another rain now. The grass is still wet, but rain is better than cold because rain keeps the soil warm, which helps the grasses to grow. We got a little frost in the low spots, not the high spots.

We've also been doing our winter maintenance on equipment and building new fences where we need it. I know other cattle producers are in the same boat as us, and we all enjoyed the good grass.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Russell Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

Regarding the fires, I know there are farms in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that have had major losses. Here in Goleta, we are probably 15 miles west of any active flame. It is just God-awful, smoky and ashy.

While we're paying close attention to what is happening with the fires, this is usually our slow time when we are taking care of the trees and getting ready for next year. We finished picking our lemons about a month and a half ago. We will probably do a side pick of avocados early in the year.

We are still doing our irrigations. That hasn't stopped, as we are waiting on rain. We never made it out of the drought. Our local water district had dropped to about 10 percent. It came up to 50 percent, but unfortunately that hasn't stopped the water districts from continuing with the surcharge that was put in place during the drought. The majority of our water is from our own wells. For some of our neighbors, it is critical because they are paying out huge amounts of money.

As far as labor, it is difficult. We try to follow the letter of the law and we have approached some people who are working on labor crews to come to work full time for us, as long as they have their papers. They are not looking for a regular job where they have daily hours. So, it is really tough because we could really use two more guys.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County diversified grower

Since almond and walnut harvest wrapped up, things are now winding down. We have been very busy with winter weed sprays and we've been blowing the strips over the last couple weeks. It has been really dry since the week before Thanksgiving. So, we've been backhoeing holes for trees. Since it is so dry, we have been disking to do some orchard floor prep for next year.

We were probably sub-par with our harvest this year, so we have decided to pull the trigger and ramp up our disking. Hopefully, we won't get any rain in the coming couple weeks. The forecast calls for little or no rain in December, and that is a little bit scary. We need the moisture. We are happy we are getting all the dirt work done now, but when January and February get here, we will be needing the water.

We have one field that we irrigate with surface water. Everything else is on wells. I hope to not have to turn the pumps on in January. That's the last thing we want to do.

Right now we are pruning our cherries. A lot of guys like to do their pruning in the summer because it restricts the growth of bacteria and other diseases. But I kind of fall back on what my grandpa always said, and that is to prune cherries every year in the wintertime. We are also gearing up for our winter dormant sprays.

Issue Date: November 29, 2017
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This is the quiet time of the year. We got our cover crops planted before we got those two or three inches of rain, so that timing was really good. It is all germinated and growing.

We started a little weed spraying. With the high cost of labor, we are going to try a little different approach and this spring we will try some chemical suckering. This means I will be changing my weed spray program. Some of the chemical companies have been doing research on which herbicides to use on suckers and there have been some good, practical trials.

We haven't started pruning yet because we haven't had any frost. I don't know what the labor situation will be, but I'm sure it isn't better. Hopefully it will be stable, but who knows.

Our grapes this year were OK with production. I think last year was better on the production side. Chardonnay and old vine zinfandel were probably the worst ones. Old vine zinfandel's market has been fairly soft, so I am seeing a lot of old vines being pulled out in the Lodi area. So, there will probably be an adjustment on that variety.

Issue Date: November 29, 2017
By Mike Bartley, Lassen County cattle rancher

We had a good winter last winter, so we had irrigation water for most of the summer. We put up a really good crop of hay and had plenty of pasture. In fact, we still have the cows out on dry pasture right now, getting by and not having to feed the cows.

About six weeks ago, we weaned all the calves. So we've got them on feed now gaining weight and doing really well. We come down to Chico to go to the sale to watch cattle go through and get a feel of what the prices are, what we're going to expect when we do go to sale with the calves in December.

We're seeing that the prices are going up from where they were throughout the summer. Seven-hundred-pound calves were bringing in about $1.40 a pound, which is quite a few cents more than they were throughout the summer. We're looking forward to a good market this year, especially with the rain now, which will start bringing some grass along here in the valley. These feeder calves will probably do really well in another two to three weeks. We're excited about that.

We just finished one of our big Natural Resources Conservation Service projects, and that's going to help us a lot. It's a cross-fencing project on about a 200-acre field we have on the northwest end of the ranch. We got a deal with NRCS to put in a solar well two years ago, some storage tanks and actual water troughs, so it's all automatic. We did that so that when we cross-fenced it, all of the four paddocks will have water for the cattle. This way, we can do some more pasture locations and get better utilization out of the grasses—do a little more of the Allan Savory-type of rotation that he studied for so long in Africa. We feel like we'll get a lot better utilization out of our feed and those pastures.

Some of the pasture does not have any irrigation, so we have to make do the best we can with what rainwater we have. We just got that project done, and we're very excited about it because it was a very time-consuming project and we did it all ourselves.

Other than that, we're just looking forward to the holidays. We'll probably start bringing the cows in and start putting them on feed. Then we'll be locked in to the ranch for the rest of the winter. We need to be there every day to feed the cows, but that's what we do and like to do. Some people think I'm crazy, but that's actually one of my favorite times of the year, because I'm out there with my cows every day. A lot of times when we're putting up hay and doing the summer work that we do, we don't get to go out and be around the cattle every day.

Issue Date: November 29, 2017
By Ana Cox, Mendocino County goat dairy farmer and cheese maker

We are a dairy and a creamery. We grow pretty much 100 percent of the hay that our goats eat. It's all natural-pasture hay that we cut. With just one cutting, we usually get more than enough to feed the herd. We cut that during the summer. Once the hay is cut, the goats go out there and stay out on pasture basically year-round. They are doing beautifully.

Pasture conditions are good. We just did soil samples in two of the fields and everything is exactly where it needs to be, so we're very pleased with that.

This time of the year, things start slowing down. The production slows down with the goats. We're right in the middle of getting the herd bred. All the does that are old enough and big enough to breed are bred. Probably by next month, we'll start drying everybody up. They should be dried probably by the first week of December. These goats have been milking for 10 months already, and so we usually dry them up and give them a little break—and give ourselves a break as well. Then they start having their babies and we start the whole process again in the spring.

We went through four years of drought and that was hard on everybody statewide. With these early rains, it's been wonderful. Everything around us is greening up beautifully, so it's nice to get the early rains. I just hope they don't come with a lot of flooding, which we've seen. The burn areas in our county—that's the biggest concern now. I'm very grateful that we were not affected by the fire, but we have other ranches in our county that have been. The rain is a blessing to all of us, but it's a double-edged sword.

Issue Date: November 29, 2017
By Gordon Poulsen, Placer County diversified grower

We're right in the middle of our mandarin harvest, and it's a short window because it's about a month and half of harvest time. We just got through with the big Mountain Mandarin Festival, which is the kickoff for the mandarin season here in Placer County. Business has been brisk. We're picking as fast as we can. If we can find the labor, we want to get the fruit off the trees.

Mandarins are very alternate-bearing trees. In other words, one year it's a really good crop and the next year the crop is a lot lighter. Quality-wise, it stays pretty much the same. Some years, the fruit is sweeter than others. We happen to be in the "on" year; this is our good year—high yield and I've had higher sugar content than I had all last year for my crop. It's an exciting year for us. But down the road, another grower is just the opposite. They're out of sync with us, so this is their "off" year, lighter crop.

So far, the labor hasn't been a big issue this year. We've had people willing to work out in the field. They seem to be excited about being able to do it, because it's really a nice job. It's not hot this time of year and it's a beautiful thing to do. So that's been working out pretty good.

We're going to be starting to harvest our lemons real soon, with oranges right behind it. It looks like a good crop. It's just they're running a little bit later this year. I thought they would be early.

This year, our mandarin harvest started three days later than last year. The lemons seem to be dragging this year. I think it's mainly because we really haven't had any good, cool temperatures yet.

We had about 1,600 tomato plants in the ground this summer. We were doing four farmers markets a week. Right now, the vines are dying, so we're going to be pulling those out and planting garlic. I'm just about ready to go out and plant about half an acre of our onion crop for next year. It's going to be a week of planting onions and garlic. My son and I do it all, so we're busy.

We're still doing two farmers markets. We do the one on Saturday up in Auburn—the Foothill Farmers Market—and we do the one in front of Whole Foods on Tuesday mornings. We have citrus and a few persimmons too.

There's a lot of choices out there. They're pulling in from Salinas and some of the growers have strawberries. Some of the other people do a lot of the leafy greens, which I don't do. It's too labor-intensive and I don't have the time because of the mandarin crop. At the markets, you're going to find just about everything.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower

We are in our lemon and grapefruit harvest in the Imperial Valley. We have been very pleased with the quality of all our crops. The fall melons are some of the nicest that we have ever had. There was one storm that hit us in September that may have affected setting to a degree, so we don't have quite the heavy crop. But we have been free of insect pressure, and the weather for the most part has been dry and warm, and that is a very nice recipe for the harvest in the melons.

We have some fall corn that will start to be harvested later in November and then we start planting for the spring sweet corn and melons when we get to early December.

We also work with growers in the Central Valley and have been doing that for several years. It was a good year this year. There were a few periods where it got very hot and that tended to have a little bit of an effect on the quality of the melons. But once we got into September, the weather became more normal, and we were very pleased with the last five weeks of the melon harvest in the Central Valley.

We are doing well on the workforce. There seems to be more H-2A workers that find their way into certain crops and that helps to free up available labor. I think the balance is good right now.

The lemon crop in the lower desert is going to fall short in both size and volume from what they were predicting back in July. We all thought there would be a heavier crop, but the fruit seemed to struggle for size, which could have been the result of some very hot days that might have set the trees into a little bit of heat dormancy.

Issue Date: November 8, 2017
By Tom Coleman, Fresno County pistachio grower

We had our second-largest crop ever. It being an "off" year, we were generally pleased with the size of the crop, but the quality was not as good as we might have hoped for. It's the largest off-year crop the industry has ever had. We were a little disappointed with the level of insect damage. I believe it probably had to do with a little wetter spring than normal and higher population of navel orangeworm.

One of the things we'll be looking toward, and we've already started on, is working on orchard sanitation, removing mummy nuts in the field. We're working on doing soil amendment applications. We're getting started on pre-emergent herbicide applications and we have started mechanical pruning, hedging of trees. Once we get the foliage off the trees, we'll start hand-pruning the trees.

I think we're getting better at controlling the radical swings in production and in general doing a heavier pruning going into an on-year, which is what we're going into right now. If you prune a little heavier now, you'll offset your drop in production for the 2019 crop.

The market is strong. Prices look good. We're shipping at a little higher rate to both the EU and to China currently.

New plantings are continuing at a slightly slower pace than in past years. It's partially due to the lack of available, suitable land and people's concern about the groundwater sustainability act coming in. My advice to growers is to only buy property that's in an irrigation district, because at least you've got more than one possible source of water. We have about 240,000 bearing acres right now and about another 75,000 acres that are nonbearing. So that's quite a bit of nonbearing acres that's yet to come into production.

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