From the Fields®
By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer
We are hot and dry, just like everyone else. We got a few late rains that maybe put a little water in the ponds and settled the dust. The cattle and calves that I have been shipping from other ranches have done really well this year. The quality is good; the weights are good. In fact, most cattle are meeting or exceeding their base weights. I've heard that there are somewhat lower pregnancy rates as far as getting them bred back.
The market has been on an upswing the last couple weeks, so the price of cattle looks pretty good. Overall, we have had really strong prices all spring, and the demand has been pretty good.
Other than some people having little feed, it looks like even though we didn't get a lot of rain, the rains were well placed and the gains were fairly good.
Most producers are still feeling the sting of having to feed hay. We are still going to have to feed hay; by no means are we out of the woods. It's dire as far as us losing our ponds and springs. I have adequate water so far, but on one of our ranches we have no water at all. We have decided that we will stick with raising our own replacement heifers and just eking this thing out until we get back to a more normal water situation.
Pricing-wise, this year is going to be OK. But we will have to watch next year, because there are other places like Texas and the Midwest where they are getting rain. Those ranchers are going to be able to expand their herds quicker than we are. So that will make more calves available, and that will set the price.
By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower
While we were blessed with some nice rains in the last months of 2014, raising hopes for a more "normal" rain and snow year, the winter of 2015 saw Northern California continue to live up to its old descriptions from when settlers first viewed the Central Valley and called it semi-arid. Many old writings suggested that the dry, grassy plains would never be good for much.
With the arrival of Reclamation and the completion of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, our Mediterranean climate has proven to be ideal for the production of a diversity of crops, rice prominent among them. We farm rice along the Colusa Basin Drain, or Reclamation 2047 Canal, which was originally constructed for summer irrigation drainage, connecting all those creeks and drains that formerly died upon the plains prior to the arrival of the water projects.
We, along with many folks from Willow Creek southeast of Willows to Knights Landing, have appropriative water rights issued by the state of California to divert waters from the Colusa Basin Drain during the spring and summer irrigation seasons. Those rights are junior to many others in the North State and unfortunately subject to curtailment in years such as 2014 and 2015.
As such, we had few options this spring other than fallowing a large percentage of the rice lands and planting a small amount of rice. What rice we did get planted this year in the basin looks good. If there is a positive side to the dry early spring weather, it is that we were able to get these basin soils good and dry prior to planting, which is a necessity for efficient stand establishment and early weed suppression. But we continue to have fits with weed control.
The overall water picture in California seems to be undergoing a major paradigm shift. The issues are far bigger than simply the shortage of rainfall and snowpack. Our old common-law system of water rights and allocation are facing significant challenges. The loosening of impediments to marketing of water, and the resulting effect that water can and will move from lower to higher value crops, or away from agricultural production completely, promises to create some huge new challenges for our agricultural industry.
By Tonetta Gladwin, Merced County fig farmer
We are reliant on the Merced Irrigation District. I do not have any wells. They are not giving any surface water to farmers here in our county, so we have zero water allocation for the year. We are trying to do some work-arounds to try to get some water to the fields.
We did have a June drop. When there's lack of water to a fig tree, it will drop its fruit to try to survive. The fig tree is a desert tree, so it needs almost half of what nut trees take. So it's not that we need a lot of water to begin with for fig trees, but no water means that they're going to abort some of their fruit. We're using our domestic wells to get a little bit of water to the fields primarily to keep the trees alive. We've had minimal water for the last couple of years. Our trees will survive a year with no water. They just will abort their crop, though.
I have 30 acres of new plantings that I have no water to and I will probably lose those. Where the new trees are, I don't have any water available to me. It's just so hard to watch them die. It's five years of investment. It's five years going out and babying those trees, watering them with tanks, and now I don't have any choice but to watch them go. It's only June. I've got to get to October and I'm hoping it'll rain. There's no surface water in sight. I've been farming for 15 years myself; I'm a third-generation fig farmer and never has it been this bad. There's water going by us, but it's not for us. Meanwhile, how do I make the mortgage payment?
We just started harvest for the first crop, but it's very light. The fruit is very good. It's just very expensive to pick; it's all hand done. I've got one employee right now, where normally I would probably have 50. I'm trying to get my labor back and keep a few people working. I have a very loyal labor pool that has come to me for the last 15 years. I just don't have the work for them because I have so little to pick. Last year was a really tough year for us to get through. I just don't quite know yet how we're going to do it this year.
By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower
We were on a waiting list for well drillers for close to two years. I finally got them in and we had eight wells drilled. Now we are waiting on the pump company, which will be another six to eight months.
We will fallow about 30 percent of our row-crop land because of lack of water. The crops we have are fine and normal. I am seeing higher than normal bug pressure in our cotton. We sprayed it two or three times already, which is unusual. But it is progressing normally.
On the dairy side of things, we are stable. We will probably break even, nothing more than that.
The one thing that isn’t looking good is our pistachios. The lack of chill is what we are blaming it on and the crop definitely looks less than last year, at least on our acreage. It is quite disappointing. All in all, even with the additional acreage, I don’t think we are going to make the overall production that we made last year.
At the end of the day, it is all about water.
By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County alfalfa and seed grower
Between well-timed rain and irrigation, we were able to finish the wheat crop, and are preparing to start harvest with the organic grains first.
Safflower looks good too, and it will be blooming earlier than usual due to early planting and adequate, but not ample, moisture. Thankfully, the weather has been mild.
I am almost finished with the second cutting of alfalfa. The first cutting was reduced due to late aphid pressure and lack of rainfall. The onion seed crop looks fair to good, and other seed crops look excellent.
I have seen the first two agricultural wells in our district drilled within the last two weeks, which is disturbing to us old timers here. Our district does not have well water, so there is concern about potential curtailment of our most senior water rights, but we are currently irrigating crops that need it with no problems. I'm looking forward to a wet winter.
By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower
The month of May was unseasonably cool in the Bay Area. It was looking like our haying season was coming on early, but with four weeks of February weather in May, things have been moving slowly. Our hay is ripening slowly, the early cut hay is slow to cure, and we have just a few hours a day when it's sunny enough to bale. We have the equipment and employees all ready to go; it's kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop. If the weather turns warm, the whole crop could be ready at once and we'll have a big rush to keep up, but we've prepared as well as we can.
Last year's record hay prices are coming back to haunt us. With little pasture last year, the beef growers opted to thin their herds and capitalize on the good beef prices. My 2014 hay crop was below average quality, and I have a fair amount of carryover. This year's hay looks much nicer, but hay prices for grain hay have been falling.
The drought has created some weed-control challenges. With no irrigation, I had some areas of poor germination, and the native weeds would like to take over. A little herbicide usually takes care of this, but with no competition, the weeds will come back, maybe those late-germinating weeds. We base our farming practices on what has worked in the past. Now, with different weather patterns, we need to figure out a new strategy.
Our seasonal rainfall is actually close to average. The problem has been that it came in a couple huge spurts. Flooding followed by drought doesn't help the crop, the environment, the aquifers or anything else I can think of. I look forward to a more normal year in 2016.
By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher
In Solano County, our grass has come on pretty good. We ended up getting the rains at the right time, so we're in pretty good shape. For us in Solano County, we're fortunate we had decent rain. Lake Berryessa is about 65 percent full, so we're in decent shape for our surface water.
Our calf weaning weights were not way off. They were in good shape. In fact, some of them were a little higher than normal. We were very fortunate that way.
I talked to a fellow in southern Oregon who moves his cattle to California in the summer, and he's starting to move a large number of his cattle to pasture in Sloughhouse. So we've had pretty good luck with cattle in my area this year, because of timing of the rains.
We're going to try to get through the summer and hopefully, this fall and winter, we'll end up having a season that will be very wet. We'll have to start looking for hay, but I haven't started that at this point. We won't be supplementing hay until wintertime. We have some irrigated pasture, but the majority is dryland pasture. The cattle will be on dry pasture. We'll have enough dry matter to take us through the summer and into the fall. In the fall, we normally feed hay, which we purchase in the summer.
Ideally, it'll be nice to get storms in September and October, get some early grass. But that's once in a blue moon; that's not normal. We start to calve in August, and we'll feed hay a little bit with the new moms when they're having calves, especially if they're still on dry pasture. Then we'll feed heavier as the weather determines that. During cold days and foggy days, it takes more feed, because it takes them more energy to keep warm and content.
By Marvin Meyers, Fresno County diversified grower
Those of us who have a water supply have set a decent almond crop. However, many growers in our district are hurting for water. Supplemental water is hard to come by; if you can find some, the costs are out of sight.
Our crops look to be somewhat earlier than usual. We will probably shake at the end of July or early August. The early varieties look to have a lighter set. We've had no real insect problems as of yet, probably due to the cool weather early on. As the heat kicks in, we expect to see some mite pressure showing up. We have NOW traps out, and so far no pressure as of yet.
Our pistachios look good, as do our olive orchards in Mendota. They look about three weeks early also.
I have been through many droughts in the past 40-plus years, but this one is by far the worst I have ever seen, and in my opinion, much of our hardships are caused by the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and the mismanagement of the state water supply over the past few years.
I am not going to dwell on my frustrations of this regulatory induced drought, because my blood pressure will go up to dangerous levels and my pacemaker will go off. What has saved our almond orchards is our water banking project. I am thankful that we had the vision to complete the project when we did. We have gone solar at the project, thus saving us lots of PG&E dollars.
By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County forester
The timber industry is in full swing up here. Loggers are salvaging wood from the Rim Fire and are also doing beetle kill. Sawmills have a pretty hefty log deck and shavings mills are happy to see the wood coming in. They have a pretty good stockpile.
Cattle ranchers are shipping cows to the mountains. From what I understand, they have been getting a lot of rain up high, so we should actually be looking good as far as feed this year, which will be nice because down low there is not much feed at all due to the drought.
The last few storms have helped fill our reservoirs in Tuolumne County, so there will be irrigation water this year. We are limited, but for the few irrigators that we have in the county, they will be getting some water. So that is positive.
The apple crop is shaping up to be pretty good, and with the good weather this spring it seems like the bloom went well.
With the drought, the bee producers are struggling to get water to the bees to keep them going.
By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
It is shaping up to be a very early season. I am getting reports that a lot of our crops in the area are running very early this year. I attribute it to a dry spring and it was very warm during early spring. That is what got us to where we are today.
What we are hoping is for it to continue on at an early pace. An early season is always welcome because it minimizes the threat from inclement weather in the fall. From this point forward, if we could have mid-90 degree weather it would be ideal conditions for grape growing as we get closer to harvest.
We are fortunate in our area that the water is adequate. We are mostly groundwater. We recently got our wells tested. I haven't gotten the results back yet, but it is something we are very interested in. So far, talking with other growers in the area, it seems that well levels in the area have not gone down too much.
It looks like an average winegrape crop. It certainly isn't a big crop.
We are coming off a four-year cycle of a lot of vineyard development and this year we have less to develop than the past four-year average. So I think because of the success of a lot of other permanent crops, we are seeing vineyard development begin to slow down.
We are sulfuring, putting on our fungicides and starting to do some summer weed spraying. Most of our labor inputs are pretty much completed for the year, so it is just focusing on irrigation and fungicide applications and hopes for mid-90 degree weather to get us to harvest.
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