From the Fields®
By Larry Massa, Colusa County diversified grower
The stock ponds are full, the creeks are running and we have green grass for the cattle on the Massa Ranch. Shasta Lake is filling, so it appears that we may have irrigation water for the crops to be planted this spring.
What a stark contrast to the several years of drought that we experienced in California recently. The welcome wet weather has delayed our calf branding, and travel on the ranch is difficult due to the mud. However, many years ago after a drought, I decided that I would never complain of muddy, wet weather. Now, if only prices of our commodities would rise.
In the Colusa Basin, where our rice operation is located, some of the rice fields have been inundated with floodwater for several weeks, so field activities are at a standstill. The abundant waterfowl has been the winner in this scenario.
We have plenty of time and more wet weather to come before we consider field work. So, our crew will spend the coming weeks attending commodity meetings, performing maintenance on equipment and facilities, and complying with the mundane regulations.
By BJ Van Dam, San Bernardino County dairy farmer
For the last quarter of 2016 and the first few months of 2017, we have had steady milk prices partnered with steady hay and grain prices, which have made it easier for us to manage things financially.
The one financial aspect that has really been experiencing peaks and valleys as of late has been the beef market. Thankfully, we don't rely on the income from our beef to sustain the dairy.
The wet winter has put water in our ponds for the first time in about two years. The water is definitely needed, but the amount of water that we are getting all at once has caused some frustration. We are right on the city limits and we are surrounded by construction with new housing developments being built. Every time it rains, our road turns to a muddy pond.
The construction and increase in population near the dairy are also causing their share of fun. Surveyors and construction company employees have been found wandering in pastures with cows and calves (even with bulls) and have even pushed open locked gates with "No Trespassing" signs on them.
People driving by will stop and walk up to the cows and try to feed them. "No Trespassing" and "BioSecurity" signs are posted in multiple locations on the property (definitely more than what is required) and most of the time when we catch these people, they are standing right next to one of the signs.
By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower
For most of the North Coast, we are averaging 40 inches of rainfall for the season so far. Some places have had much more than that. Needless to say, things are very wet.
As a result, most producers are behind schedule on pruning and spraying. Bud break has also been postponed due to the cold and wet weather, and the delay in pruning. It should definitely be a later bud break than the record early season we saw in 2016.
The other great news is that all of the reservoirs are full. As producers start to gear up for frost season, they are feeling good about the prospects of plenty of water for frost protection and beyond.
There was minor storm damage along the Russian River in Mendocino County and some of the larger tributaries. Fortunately, no major damage has been reported, with the majority being minor erosion and lots of debris cleanup. The forecast looks to continue with wet weather for the rest of the month.
By Joe Zanger, San Benito County diversified grower
Overall, things were good last season. We had enough water and labor and while quality and quantity were fairly good, prices were sufficient. This was pretty much true for most of the county for most crops.
There is hand-wringing regarding well water levels as the creeks are flowing. We all do our part to minimize runoff, leaving the row crop and orchard acreage with some berm work and cover crops to maximize soak-in.
Standing well water is now at 28 feet, while just a few months ago levels were 60 feet lower. We are fortunate to have the Pacheco Creek border our property.
The mouth of the Pacheco drains into San Felipe Lake just three miles downstream of us. There was some flooding there in January, due primarily to large flows and levee failure. As it was a slow national news weather day, friends from across the country were inquiring if we were dry when the Pacheco made the news.
Now, it's a wait to dry things out and get the pruning done.
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower
Right now, the bees are going into the almonds. The trees are starting to push bud and are around the corner from popping.
We planted some more garbanzos. We have some that are planted in the fall and some in the spring, and those are the beans we are planting right now.
We are getting our tomato ground prepped for planting sometime in mid-March. It has been difficult to get in and out of fields to do anything because it has been so wet. So when we have three or four dry days, we need to get a lot of stuff done in a very short period of time before the next storm comes through. This is something that is kind of new, being that the last four years have been dry. This is a good thing overall, but it does create some challenges for us.
We are pruning some of our pistachios right now. And we will be planting cotton probably around the end of March, so we are getting the ground prepped for that.
I think I will be able to plant more acreage this year than in the past three or four years. The outlook is promising, but we won't know the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's final allocation until the end of April and maybe as late as May. We need to watch the dynamics of the winter play through to get a firmer picture, but right now it looks good.
The problem with the water system in this state is that we still have the regulatory components to it, and this makes it very difficult to predict our deliveries. We have additional planting in our plans and if things happen favorably, we will plant additional fields, most likely into pima cotton. But if we can't, then it will be fallowed again.
By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County walnut grower
The Winters area continues to receive abundant rain from each storm that passes. Despite delays in pruning orchards and other winter chores, no one is complaining.
Groundwater levels should see a nice boost from this good fortune. News from the Yolo County Flood Control Agency indicates Clear Lake and Indian Valley water conditions are improving nicely. Lake Berryessa water level is expected to reach the famed "Glory Hole" spillway for the first time in a decade!
Almond orchards are just starting to pop with bloom and crop dusters are out spraying protective fungicide sprays.
Wheat is showing signs of Septoria disease due to the wet conditions.
Farmers are using this time to catch up on ever increasing office work, attend Cooperative Extension meetings, farm shows and so on.
By Joe Colace, Imperial County diversified grower
Like the entire state of California, down here on the lower desert we have been getting a lot of precipitation. Probably our average is in the 2 ½-inch range, and since just before Christmas we have had four storms that rolled through. One of them produced a little over an inch and another one 3/4-inch, and the other two were lighter.
It has created a little bit of planting gaps for us with the melons and the corn. It isn't too bad, but it could possibly show up at harvest time. As far as the vegetables that are being harvested right now, the market has been poor for a long, extended period. But we think we are finally starting to see improvement. Broccoli and cauliflower have had good runs since December. But finally, the leaf items are showing life and there is a lot more encouragement. We are optimistic that the lower desert is going to finish off with a better second half than we saw during the first half of the deal.
The melon acreage probably is down slightly; the sweet corn acreage is similar to last year, if not up a little bit.
We had a very nice and average lemon crop here in District 3, and then the mandarin crop was very hit and miss. There were some ranches that produced fine and other ranches that were below average. Grapefruit seems to be an average crop, if not slightly above.
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower
Right now, we are in a mad rush to get as much work done as possible between storms. The ground finally dried enough that we could get out and do some mummy shaking in the almonds and pruning in the prunes. We were also doing our second half of our pre-emergent sprays in the almonds before the rain hit.
The labor situation is short this year. My labor contractor has a crew that is about a third smaller than in past years, so it is taking longer to cover the acreage that I need to get done. But I am hoping they will be done before the prunes start blooming in about a month. The buds are starting to swell in the almonds. We are estimating that the bloom will be a little bit later than last year. Beekeepers are moving the hives out into the orchards, getting the bees ready for almond pollination.
So now we are kind of just waiting for everything to break loose.
Right now, the storms are good, but once we start blooming, we don't want to see the rain because we will be dealing with more disease issues and the bees not able to work as effectively when it is raining. If we are going to have the storms, this is a good time to have them.
Everybody is in the same boat here, trying to get as much work done as possible between the storms. If these rains materialize when the first bloom sprays are needed, there might be muddy conditions where we might need to think about applications by air rather than ground applications. It is too early to say yet, but that is one concern because of the added costs.
By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower
It has been a real blessing with all of the precipitation that we have been getting. For the most part, the levees have been holding well. There are a few isolated circumstances where that isn't the norm, but it is nice to see some standing water in fields, because we know that eventually that will reach the aquifer.
Along with that, we have had a lot of rain days and days when we couldn't get our pruning crews out, and that is our main activity right now. So, we are just monitoring where we are at and whether we are ahead or behind a normal schedule.
We just finished sending out our W2 forms and this year we had more than double our normal amount of W2 forms because of a regulation that required growers to back-pay workers who were paid piece rate from 2012 forward. So, that created more than double the amount of work administratively for the month of January.
We have a higher minimum wage, our costs are going up and we are actively pursuing mechanizing on as many of our operations as we can, simply because California government is sending us clear messages that they don't want labor in California any more. With mechanization, we can do harvesting and leaf pulling and there is a lot of work being done on trunk suckering right now. But the biggest area that I would like to see is in pruning, which is one of our biggest labor costs. There are a lot of us, myself included, who are installing trellises that can be mechanically pruned. This will probably reduce our labor by 85 percent.
By Brandon Fawaz, Siskiyou County hay farmer
We've had a winter like I can't remember for a long, long time. We had around two feet of snow right around the start of the year, and then some extreme cold temperatures for our area (Scott Valley). The snow set up and froze up on the fields and has pretty much been there for a month, and it's just starting to kind of leave now.
So it's been primarily a month of work inside the shop, inside the office, complying with all the various due dates for regulations and dealing with farming in the state of California, and not a lot of work being done outside this year so far.
Normally, we plant some of our cereal grain crops on rotation and such around the middle to the last part of February. As wet as things are this year—we have a week of rain forecast right now—even if it quit after this next storm, with as much standing water as we have right now and as wet as things are, I am guessing we will not be able to get a tractor into the field to do any type of tillage or prep work at all in the month of February. Kind of curious, on our equipment with the flotation tires for fertilizer and herbicide applications, if we'll even be able to get started with those on time or not. On a normal year, we would already have started today.
We're hay farmers, and we use grain only as rotation. Our primary crops are alfalfa and orchard grass. In order for the hay farmer to be successful, we need the dairyman and the cattle producer to be successful. That's a key point that I'd like to really emphasize, that we're very much dependent on each other. So it would be nice if we could see dairy financially strengthen a little bit, and beef cattle as well. And then, after that, things that we have to do to be successful would be the proper care, the proper fertilization, the proper pest control and proper irrigation to get us to first crop, which we usually start harvesting around the end of May.
Our valley is primarily a groundwater basin. There are some surface-water diversions, more for a stock water or pasture system and not for hay ground. Our region is not in overdraft. We refill and recharge our groundwater every year. Even in what we would consider to be a dry year, we still do a fairly good job of recharging.
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