From the Fields®

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Roger Everett, Tulare County citrus grower and beekeeper

We are in the citrus and bee business. Our citrus is looking a little bit scary right now. We have mostly navel oranges with a few acres of lemons. Most of my navels are late navels, so they tend to get harvested in late April to May, and the lemons tend to be March to April. Our crop sets are light and the sizes are small, so I anticipate picking as late as the trees will allow to try to get some size on them. But in the Terra Bella area where I am, that tends to be the norm rather than the exception.

We are anticipating a zero water allocation and unlike this year, when we were able to find backup supplies at rather high prices to at least keep the trees going, next year we may end up just watching them dry up and die. We are hoping not. There have been some good rainstorms, but still it is just a drop in a big bucket.

As far as bees, they are looking fairly decent right now. For us, we generally start to have our biggest losses coming in mid-December to mid-January. It seems to happen every year. We are anticipating problems, just because we are California beekeepers.

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Jeff Fowle, Siskiyou County beef producer

In the north country, we have been enjoying what I guess you could say is some unusual fall and winter rain, with a few days on and then a few days off. Depending on where you are in the Scott Valley, we have gotten from 10 to 12 inches so far. It seems more like an early spring rather than a fall or winter rain. We are enjoying not having to feed our cattle yet. With it being warm, we are watching our calves closely for scours and whatnot.

We have another system coming in, with high winds and rain and snow down to 6,000 feet. We are praying that the temperatures drop so we can get some of that white stuff. Without the snow, we are going to be stuck in the same place where we were last summer.

Beef prices have been holding favorably strong and, barring some action by our federal government opening the way for more imports, we should remain strong. We are enjoying the strength of the price, but are cautiously nervous about what the future holds.

This year, we did herd reduction because of the drought. That is part of the reason that we haven't had to feed cows yet this winter. We did a 25-30 percent herd reduction back in the spring when the prices were high. Our groundwater held, so we were able to irrigate our pastures. We have been raising a fourth cutting of orchard grass and a fourth cutting of alfalfa.

We are making those decisions now, whether we want to keep more replacement heifers or remain where we are at. We will have to make those decisions in the next couple months.

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Tony Toso, Mariposa County cattle rancher

We've been having a bit of rain and that's good. We're hoping the storms coming in will increase the rainfall totals. The grass has been greening because the temperatures have been warmer. We're easing up on feeding hay now, and the cows are starting to spread out.

The calves look good and that's also true for our neighbors. Some people have more feed than others, but overall, it's a nice start to the grass season. If we keep getting rain and it's well timed, I'm optimistic.

Our grasses have really taken a beating during the drought. But with several inches of rain, it will start to come back.

Once the ground is saturated from rain, we'll start getting runoff into the stock ponds. That will be a real benefit.

Nationwide, the beef herd is reduced to levels seen in the 1960s. But right now, we're working on normal replacement levels for our operation. As far as expansion, that's not the plan at the moment. There are limits on pasture, even with normal rainfall.

We try to concentrate on genetics. We were pure-bred people in the past, but we've moved into more commercial cattle. Now, we try to replace our cows with home-raised animals. That is, we try to look for good cattle coming out of the foothills that are used to similar environmental conditions as we have. It makes a difference in how well an animal can resist diseases, like foothill abortion and anaplasmosis, which is caused by ticks.

And, we try to buy bulls from ranchers who stand behind their animals and that produce the numbers of calves they say they will. I buy cattle for people and I want to make sure the quality is there; it's a pride thing.

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We're going to start pruning our grapevines in a week or two. Some people have already started pruning in the area, so the question is whether there is a sufficient labor supply to start pruning all of these vineyards. People usually start pruning in December and they are not done until March, so we'll see what the labor supplies are and what the labor contractors are saying.

We're waiting for a good hard frost; we haven't had a good hard frost yet before we start pruning, but some people have started because you have to cover the acreage.

There have been some old vineyards taken out in the area, which is good to see. They are feeling confident about the market. We haven't seen what they are planting, but they are reinvesting, which is good. People are waiting to see what the market is going to do the next couple of years.

We've gotten some good rainstorms, which is a good start to the season. We had another storm last week, so that will be good so we start filling up the aquifer a little bit.

This year was variable. Of all of the different varieties that we grow, zinfandel experienced our worst production in the last 10 years. Zinfandel all over Lodi was a low crop year. All of the other varieties were off by about 10 percent or so, and we attribute that to the drought.

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County hay producer

Things are going full swing with winter vegetables, wheat harvesting. We are finishing up all of our fall hay plantings. Those acres will probably be down this year because of additional wheat plantings. The durum wheat prices are extremely high, higher than they have been for years.

We will fallow about 40,000 acres this year district-wide, so there is competition for ground.

I am getting ready to do some spring plantings. I will be planting some corn for silage here this month.

So all in all it has been a great year. Hay production was normal and vegetables are ahead of schedule because of the warm fall. We look to have a good year in 2015.

Issue Date: December 17, 2014
By Scott Hudson, San Bernardino County apple grower

Overall, our apple business was good. Most of the apples that we sell are grown right at our apple shed. We make our own fresh cider and our apple cider mini-donuts are very popular. Our agritourism events are still among the top third of our income section.

For our apple crop, this winter we didn't get the traditional snowfall or even the cold temperatures that we need for our apples, but we were blessed that we still had a decent crop. This made the harvesting season a little longer than usual and more difficult. Some varieties didn't get the size that they normally do, and there's a few that just didn't produce at all.

We had a series of heat waves. Being that our operation is over 100 years old, we don't have a lot of mechanical cold storage, so we have to rely on natural cold storage, and we just had a couple spikes of heat and we had to cull some fruit.

We probably lost over 450 bushels or so of apples due to heat. It wasn't 100 degrees, but it was hotter than normal and it did affect our stored fruit.

We got our winery license in August, so we're putting a lot of effort in getting that part of our business more established. We were able to produce some product and it was very successful.

Issue Date: December 3, 2014
By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and cherry grower

We finished winegrape harvest early this year. We got all of the fields worked up and we prepared them for winter. The harvesters are cleaned up ready to store for next season.

The winegrape harvest started about 10 days earlier than normal and other than just one rain, it went relatively smooth. The sugars this year just came in line on the varieties that needed to be harvested. Typically, you are trying to figure out the scheduling of what you are going to harvest the next day and this year we had this figured out three or four days in advance. It seemed like all of the sugars just fell into place and there were no scheduling issues. The grape quality was extremely good; everything just went well and there were no issues with rot or mildew.

We mostly do mechanical harvesting, so finding labor isn't much of a problem as when we are doing hand-harvesting. Right now, we are setting up to start pre-pruning of the vines and ultimately cut costs of pruning. We'll probably start pruning towards the end of December.

With all of the varieties, the yields were average to below average. Probably the crops that were the lighter ones overall were zinfandel, for whatever reason, and cabernet was normal to slightly above normal, but overall, everything went well.

Issue Date: December 3, 2014
By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified farmer

We're frantically trying to get durum wheat in because the prices are relatively good and it looks like they'll be strong due to weather problems in Canada and the Dakotas. Conventional wisdom is that mills will need to come to the desert to pick up higher quality wheat to blend with weather-damaged wheat.

And we're trying to get the last of our subsurface, drip-irrigated alfalfa crop up and germinated. We'll convert from sprinklers to drip once germination is complete. We've got 1,800 acres of drip-irrigated alfalfa in the Imperial Valley right now.

We started irrigating with drip about three years ago on this ranch. We just put another drip system in on a ranch we lease in Wenden, Ariz. We have 3,000 acres of alfalfa under drip there.

Drip irrigation in the desert is getting more attention because of our long growing season. The fixed costs of installing drip require year-round harvesting to amortize it across nine or 10 cuttings a season. With crop production increases, the expenditure on drip systems can be justified.

Our approach is to produce more alfalfa per acre-foot than we did before. Because of the success we're having, there's a lot of interest from valley farmers. At first there was a lot skepticism about using drip in the valley, but that has drained away as neighbors have seen our production results.

We're looking at ranches in Arizona more closely now to locate contiguous blocks of ground with a good water source, so we can install drip irrigation systems there that make the ranches more self-sufficient. Large pieces of ground are hard to find in the Imperial Valley at any price, so were looking for opportunities in Arizona.

Issue Date: December 3, 2014
By Mat Conant, Sutter County walnut grower

In Sutter County and most other counties, the walnut crop is up and I expect the value of the crop will probably go up. I wouldn't be too surprised if walnuts actually have a higher value than rice this year for two reasons: Even though rice prices are up this year, acreage is down, and walnuts will have a similar price to last year and maybe down just a touch from last year's high prices.

California walnut production is expected to be up this year by about 10 to 12 percent, overall. Walnut production was around 495,000 tons last year and this year we should be around 545,000 tons total state production. It looks like walnuts are doing pretty well and rice is doing well too. Rice prices are up $6 to $8 a sack from last year.

Now that walnut growers have finished harvest, they are working on sanitation, strip spraying and starting pruning and looking forward to the holidays. It was a long harvest this year and seemed to drag on for a lot of people, including us.

Regarding water, for us our district is pretty well managed. We have a well-managed groundwater plan and have been doing it roughly 60 years in our district. We are used to droughts and during the drought years we of course rely more heavily on the groundwater than surface water. Because we had less surface water, we had to tap heavily into the wells this year.

We talked to a well district manager recently and he thinks that the wells did not go down as much as he thought they would have. Some areas are only down a couple of feet from last year at this time, so that's pretty good. Some areas are down more. He thinks if we have any significant rainfall this year that we will recover very nicely. But not every area can say that.

Issue Date: December 3, 2014
By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County diversified grower

We're heading into the cold season. Ten days ago, we finally had cold temperatures down into the 20s—or a killing frost—that shut all of the plants off, and that allows us to turn cattle out onto alfalfa fields without the risk of bloat. It is risky before that. Cattle are mostly down and out of the mountains right now and back onto winter feed grounds. There's a little bit of hay but not much, but we're looking towards snow flying in the next two weeks, at which time we'll start feeding hay in our part of the world.

It's been a very nice fall as far as moisture in the north state. We've had plentiful rain. The rivers are running, the fish are swimming and the feed has grown.

We'll have to see how the areas that burned last summer respond to winter storms. We're hoping we don't have a lot of erosion problems and that they can be salvage-logged and reforested, and put away properly before there's too much erosion in those areas.

Hay markets are looking not as strong as they were, but the hay producers in our area will do OK. Cattle prices are strong enough that it looks like they will be able to support good hay prices and still be able to make money with cattle.

All in all, it's a pretty good year for people who are producing hay and cattle.

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