From the Fields®

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By Sean Curtis, Modoc County cattle rancher

Looks like we had another batch of winter that came in a few days ago. That goes hand in hand with calving, which is in full swing right now.

Most of last year's hay that is stored in barns has been sold, although it hasn't all been freighted out yet. It is moving smoothly and evenly and prices aren't as good as they were, but OK.

There is lots of snow up high and the ground is wet. This is something of a unique thing for the high desert. But the water situation for those using storage should be good this year. At this point, it looks like it should be a good grazing year on federal permit forest lands, although that is more a matter of timing of rain rather than a lot of winter moisture. Certainly, the stock water should be good this year.

It is too early for growers to be revving up their tractors, but I think all the moisture may have changed the outlook for crops this year that may have been iffy the last couple years with very little water in storage.

We are in the middle of our massive effort to reduce wild horse herds in the Modoc National Forest. It is becoming a crisis and we have been told to expect significant grazing reductions both this year and next year. These horses don't just compete with livestock for feed, they also compete with pronghorn antelope, deer and elk. Livestock are managed on the range and horses are out there 12 months of the year, doing permanent damage to the range.

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

We had a lot of rain and now the sun is out and we forgot how to work, so we are trying to figure it out.

I've been in the almond business for four years and every year since I've had these almonds we basically worked on them all winter long and we've never stopped working. And now we've gone from sometime in November until just recently when we haven't been able to get into the orchard. Now we are doing a lot of catch-up.

We have another situation where we forgot what rain looks like on the dairy and we went through quite a bit of effort over the winter dealing with rain-related complications. But now it seems that it may all be behind us, and the cows are happy and it is good weather for them.

It is getting a little warm during the day; one day last week, it was 86 degrees. But as long as it cools down at night, the cows do fine. With cows and heat stress it is mostly about nighttime temperature that impacts them.

I am planted in winter wheat right now. We will usually be harvesting that in the first or second week of May and then we plant corn.

The wheat looks great, but it will be interesting to see the yields. It has been my personal observation, and not a scientific fact, that the drier the winter, the better the wheat, the higher the yields we get. I think the wheat doesn't like a lot of standing water and when you irrigate it, you have more control over the water than when it is raining. So, I am actually expecting that our wheat yields will be a little off because of the rain.

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

Prune bloom is now underway, accompanied by good weather in the Sacramento Valley, so we're hopeful for a nice crop set. But we'll be spraying fungicides for brown rot as rain approaches. The bloom timing is about normal, a nice return to normal from the past few years of early springs.

Fields are drying out nicely, with the exception of those inside levees or low spots. Suddenly, I'm behind on a lot of field work.

I'm hearing the early walnut varieties like Tulare are already pushing. Those guys will be looking to protect new growth from blight.

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

Well, here it is mid-March already and the time for beginning ground work for the 2017 rice crop would normally be not too far off. Yet, as I write this, our fields are still saturated and rain is in the forecast again for this week. This could end up being one of those years where, once we finally do get going, it will have to be at full throttle in order to get the crop in on time. On the other hand, we could get a week of drying north wind that helps us catch up in a hurry. I would welcome that.

It's a bit ironic that, while over the past several years California has had reduced rice acreage due to the drought, this year it appears that we will have reduced acreage due to too much water. The bypasses are still full, and I've heard talk that as many as 50,000 acres won't dry out in time to plant rice. That's about 10 percent of California's normal acreage.

I just returned from attending the International Temperate Rice Conference. Held every four years, this time around it took place in Australia. It was late summer Down Under, and their rice crop is only weeks away from harvest.

A highlight of the trip was being able to attend Australia's Rice Field Day, which turned out to be very similar to California's Rice Field Day held in late August near Biggs. I saw firsthand how similar Australia and California are in terms of producing high-quality, medium-grain rice.

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County forester

Lately, Mendocino County has had a nice break from all the rainfall we have been getting. My property is approaching 6 feet of rainfall this season.

During the break, we have been able to repair some of the damage from all the rain: road repair, trees down and so on. Due to all the rainfall and ground saturation, there are many places equipment cannot access.

This last week we had temperatures in the high 70s, so pretty soon orchards and vineyards will start to get very busy. Now, orchards and vineyards are pruning and checking their frost-prevention systems.

Cattle are in pretty good shape, considering all the rain. With not too many hard frosts, grass on rangelands is growing and providing good forage for livestock.

Issue Date: March 22, 2017
By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County diversified grower

It has been a winter where everyone has had some challenges with the weather, and I am no different.

During that rainy spell, I had tom turkeys that were significant in size that went to market. It was hard to keep litter dry, so it was tough litter conditions and not my greatest performing flock. So it suffered a little bit there.

Walnuts were 6 to 7 feet under water on four separate occasions. Most everything was still dormant, and it looks like the trees right now are just starting to push the buds a little bit. The sprinkler lines and infrastructure are a tangled-up mess. And the missing of posts, stakes and this and that just creates more work.

We've also had to cover up some of the crowns on the walnuts that were exposed. When you have that much water and a swift current, it raised hell. It could have been much worse. As for tree damage, that will all wait to be seen, but the water did drain out and now we are actually working the ground. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks we will get the rest of the trees grafted over.

I know there were some almond orchards in the area that were lost because they stayed underwater too long, but so far, so good. Better conditions now.

I am getting ready to move my turkey poults out of the breeder house to the grow-out house, so things are getting a little better here. We market a bunch of project lambs in early February that were November born.

In farming, you just need to wait around long enough and you know the change in weather is coming.

Issue Date: March 8, 2017
By Dana Merrill, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower

We are wrapping up the pruning of our vineyards and coping with welcome yet field-operation-delaying rains. Despite the highest rainfall in perhaps a decade, damage is minimal as most vineyards utilize cover crops between the rows.

Rest for our wells is welcome after a few years of winter irrigations and soil salts are being leached.

There is no bud break yet, but with the first almond blossoms showing it is likely only days away for the grapes. Meanwhile, there is early interest in buying grapes by multiple wineries. Mandated wage increases and shorter hours loom in the future, but are not in play yet.

Issue Date: March 8, 2017
By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County beef producer

It has been a wet winter and there is plenty of moisture right now. We are very glad to have it and we really hope that it is going to be a good spring and a good summer. We kind of wish it would stop raining for a while, but all in all this is a major relief from the drought cycle that we have been in. We are going to hopefully reap the benefits and let things heal up. We know we can count on some water this year that in the past has been a little nip and tuck.

It is calving season for us and we are right in the middle of it. Calves are being born every day and that is going well. There hasn't been anything unusual or out of the ordinary. The first-calf heifers have done really well. We retain enough heifers to maintain our herd and cull the old ones out. We are about at capacity for our ranges.

We have a direct-market, grass-fed beef program that is a small part of our business, and it is a really good niche for us. It always has been, but it is a little bit better now because those prices aren't quite as volatile as commodity prices.

Essentially, we are just waiting for spring to break so we can get to work. As soon as the weather warms up, we can get out and get some things done.

With the added rain that we have, we will have some extra grasses and we can run some extra yearlings or make some more hay to either sell or put away for the winter.

Right now, we aren't making any major plans for changing anything because of the rain, but we are trying to figure out how to best utilize a little more feed. But you never know. Depending on spring moisture and temperatures, we may not have any more grass. It can show up in different ways.

Issue Date: March 8, 2017
By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County organic dairy farmer

It's been really wet. We live in the low land of Sonoma County and the ground is clay, so it's hard to get the cows out, but hopefully with the nice weather we are having we should get the cows out.

With us being organic, we need the cows to get 120 days out on grass. The organic pasture rule is 120 days on grass and 30 percent of their intake is pasture, so we try to get them out as soon as possible. Since it is March, we like to have them out eating pasture right now.

We grow silage on-farm and we'll probably cut that in June with how wet it is. We truck feed in, so we are trying to lock down contracts and now that we in the beginning in the New Year, we are starting to get hot wires up. We run an 18-day rotation, we have 300 cows and each string is 150, so we have an 18-day rotation on each string's pasture, so just getting fences up keeps us busy. Once everything starts to dry up, we'll start pulling out K lines, hand lines, the big wheel guns.

We've done a couple of nutrient management projects with the city of Santa Rosa, where we use the reclaimed wastewater for our irrigation and the city gets nitrogen and nutrient management credits. We are finishing up that project that involves adding a concrete lane out to our pasture, and we lined our manure pit with concrete.

We're getting ready to do ag days. Sonoma County puts on a two-day ag day event March 14 and 15. My dad and I have been taking cows there for about 20 years, so we have to get our cows washed and get our display ready, so we're gearing up for that.

Issue Date: March 8, 2017
By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower

After a rough 2016 and an incredibly wet winter, the melon industry looks ahead to warmer and "brighter" days in 2017.

Planting in the Central Valley will begin in the next few weeks and business as usual should ensue shortly thereafter. Despite record precipitation and all of our reservoirs being full, water allocations are still up in the air.

Crop maps will ebb and flow, but the strong dollar, cheap cotton, hay and grain contracts, and uncertain tomato price leads me to believe that there will be plenty of melon acres planted and harvested this spring and summer. Pricing and demand need to be addressed with our retail and food service customers, but the biggest challenges will likely be labor and its effect on foreign and domestic competition.

Fewer and fewer farmworkers are available and the persistent minimum wage increases put California producers in a precarious position with respect to competitive domestic pricing models.

Assuming fuel prices remain similar, East Coast freight costs will exceed the value of the fruit. This makes competing with Midwestern and Southeastern growers impossible. This also puts more pressure on the West Coast markets, as additional volume is placed locally.

Melons have always been a strong bulk summer commodity, but shrinking shelf space and longer shelf life melons have the industry concerned. We have focused intently upon offering better and more consistent varieties with full flavor, high brix and sweet aroma. Hopefully, this combination will induce consumers to "Buy California" more frequently and in greater quantities.

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