From the Fields®

Issue Date: December 7, 2016
By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer

We started out with some pretty good rain with some storms coming through. There is green grass poking out of the hills now; so far so good for the start of the grass season. We are still looking for better cattle prices. They picked up a little bit over the past month, but there are still going to be concerns over how this is going to carry out when we get into our main marketing season into May. Our fall-born calves will go in May. So there is some consternation over where prices are going to be. If we can get some good gains this year on the production side of it, we are going in the right direction. Hopefully, we will get prices to cooperate with us.

Whether people are building their herds kind of depends on whether they have the feed or not. The prices have been pretty tough lately. We aren't getting the money we got previously for cull cows and cull bulls. So people get a little bit reluctant. But I have always been taught that when you get into a down market, that is when you hold your heifers back. I think people are doing that a little bit. We are seeing the herds get built back up, and I think that is translating into the prices that we have now.

Cows have cheapened up. Cows that were pushing $3,000 a year and a half ago are $1,100 to $1,500 now. So it is a different deal right now. We are in a different part of the cycle.

Issue Date: December 7, 2016
By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery producer

This has been a pretty good year for our growers. We had a really bad year in 2015, and it was mostly because everybody was saying they didn't have any water. All our own facilities had water because we have wells, so we don't have any trouble growing the plants, but consumers thought they didn't have much water. We grew a lot of plants for 2015, and we had to dump a tremendous portion of the plants.

In 2016, we did good with our six-packs. The chrysanthemum season was good in the fall. We did very good with the cyclamens. All the poinsettias turned out really good. We grew as many as we have room for. We started shipping them around the 10th of November and will continue shipping them through the 10th of December. People seem to want the poinsettias. We've got at least 12 or more different varieties and colors, but mostly what's sold is red. We sell at least 80 percent of them and probably 15 to 20 percent of the other colors. We'll see some at the CFBF annual convention. They really make a nice show for everyone to see.

Something different this year is that we grew an awful lot of succulents, because there was a market for them. We're going to grow a lot next year. Hopefully, we're not going to flood the market. The thing about succulents is that they don't die; they just keep on going because they're tougher plants. Another thing that was special this past year is there was a market for perennials. There are many new varieties and they're really beautiful.

We do our own delivering, and there are a lot more restrictions and regulations every year. It gets more and more difficult to deliver the plants, and we deliver millions of plants. The stores have to have plants in stock every day, so we have crops maturing every week all year long. With the new restrictions on what the drivers can do, what reports they have to do, it's getting tougher to deliver. We're lucky that the fuel cost is stable because we have so many trucks and they require a lot of fuel.

The big thing in 2016 was we grew fewer plants and we were able to sell all the plants we grew. In 2015, we grew a lot more plants, but we had to dump millions and millions of plants that we couldn't sell. We're looking to do the same next year as we did in 2016. We're just looking to be careful with what we grow, because we need to sell what we grow.

Issue Date: December 7, 2016
By John Amaro, Glenn County rice farmer

Right now we're making sure all the fields are regulated with our decomp water. With all the rains that we've had lately, it's just the opposite of what we had at the beginning of the season. So we're trying to get everything done properly there. We shot way down as far as our water usage. Usually, we have to have a little bit of water going into the fields until probably December. Half of our fields we have pretty much shut off because we've gotten such a good amount of rain through October and November.

We're starting on our equipment maintenance plans for next year. Of course, with the lower commodity prices, that's a little bit more of a challenge. We're trying to be very economical and plan better as far as what we're going to do and looking into our maintenance records a little bit more just to see what we can do and what we don't need to do, maybe put off for a year. In another month or so, we'll probably start our financial planning.

The winter looks good as far as our water supply so far. Of course, we have a long way to go. The reservoirs are a little bit above average. That's all good, but we have a long winter to go yet before we can feel a little bit of a relief.

The biggest challenge for everybody, not just rice, is the commodity prices being so low. We're pretty much all rice, and so it's a big struggle to plan financially for next year. I'm sure there'll be some young farmers that might have a little bit of a tough time getting loans next year.

Issue Date: December 7, 2016
By Leonard Souza, Kings County walnut and corn farmer

We're pruning the walnuts. We're putting the pre-emergence and post-emergence on the berms on the walnut trees. We're doing sanitation as far as getting under the walnut trees and destroying the walnuts that are left in the orchard after harvest. We're actually irrigating right now. It's our after-harvest winter irrigation. We've hardly gotten any rain. We try to get our deep moisture in the orchard for next summer, to have the trees hydrated so they don't get frost damage if it gets real cold in the wintertime. I have fertilizer on the trees.

We're concerned about the price on walnuts. They're docking us real hard on the color of the meats of the walnuts, and that affects the price. They found out the dark meat is a little harder to sell, so they really discount the nut. And usually the variety with the lower value is the Serr because of the color. So a lot of people are pulling their Serrs out, and some of these older varieties that tend to have darker meat. The darker meat, I think, actually tastes better and has more oil.

Farmers are now planting a new variety that's only been out a few years; it's called Ivanhoe. The Chandler is a light nut and it does real well. The other one that's kind of on the fence is the Tulare. Some years it's light and some years it's darker. It depends on the area, too, because here in the valley, we get more heat and it has the tendency to cause the meat to be a little darker.

I've been trying to decide what to pull out or whether to give them another year or what. I may try a few different things first, because it costs a lot of money to pull an orchard out and some of these trees aren't that old. My trees are only about 20 years old and I don't feel like pulling them out yet. But it makes a difference in price—20 to 30 cents a pound, if not more.

On the corn ground, we've ripped it and it's just sitting fallow right now until we get ready to plant. We'll put beds up and we'll work the beds. Then we'll pre-irrigate probably in late February and March, and we'll plant the first of April.

The corn market is down. The silage market is down. I think a lot of people are going to plant cotton to get away from the cheap corn and silage prices; that's what I've been hearing. Corn takes a little bit more water than cotton, so that's another factor involved. But I'm going to plant corn because I've got the same amount of ground and I don't think it justifies growing a different crop. I like to plant the same things. My equipment is all set up for that. The other thing is, if a lot of people are planting cotton, maybe the corn market will come up, because these cows still need to eat silage. But I plant a variety that I can either go grain or silage.

Issue Date: November 9, 2016
By Jamie Johansson, Butte County olive grower

It's been a welcome change in weather the past three weeks. The last half of October brought 5 inches of rain and now a pattern of 70-degree days and 40-degree nights has really started to transition the farm to fall. I don't think I've seen it "green up" as fast as our pastures did this year. This is also the earliest we have ever started selectively harvesting our Meyer lemons, making our first deliveries last Tuesday. It's a heavy crop this year, so getting an early start on the lemon sales is a relief.

For olives, this will be an off year, but that was anticipated with a huge crop last year on the farm. Typically, I like to start the first harvest for olive oil the week before Thanksgiving, when half the olives are still green. We are at that point now, if not beyond. With a light crop, I'm happy to see early ripening, as we will be able to harvest our fully ripe olives earlier, minimizing loss to winter windstorms.

The end of October also marked the end of our farmers market season. We do participate in one year-round market in Chico on Saturdays. As we enter into the holiday months, our sales from the markets will be replaced with on-farm sales. The local mandarin season should be starting up in the next couple of weeks and as people travel to the foothills to buy their mandarins, we always benefit as a secondary stop for them. With harvest, sales and deliveries, the last two months of the year are always the busiest on the farm.

Issue Date: November 9, 2016
By Ed Terry, Ventura County diversified grower

We’re finishing up our pepper harvest—all of the bell peppers and jalapeños. I’ll be finished up here at the end of November. We had a good production run this fall with peppers, good quality.

We’re getting ready to start harvesting celery. The celery looks good. I don’t know what the market prices are right now, but I know they’ve been down for most of the year. Hopefully, they’ve picked up, but I’m not sure what the current price is. We’re continuing to plant celery over the next few months.

Winter strawberries are being planted here in the county. We should start harvesting that around Christmas and run through the whole spring and into June.

We’re planting some onion seed crop down here for seed production. It gets harvested in the summer. It’s something new for us. We haven’t done it for 30 years.

We’re planning on farming our 2,000 acres of various row crops into the next year. We’ll see what Mother Nature brings us with respect to rain. If it doesn’t rain, we’ll have to adjust accordingly and see what happens.

The weather has been too nice. We’ve had a little bit of drizzle, but we need significant rain this fall and winter to help put some water back in the aquifers. We’re all hoping and praying for it. We hope it isn’t a bust like last year, where everybody thought we were going to have a lot of rain from El Niño and we got very little. I think I’ve given up listening to the weatherman and all the scientists. I think sometimes you’re better off throwing the dice and seeing what comes up. It’s probably just as accurate.

We got less than a half an inch here in October. And the weather has just been beautiful and warm—postcard weather here. I don’t know when that’s going to change, but the weather has just been drop-dead gorgeous.

Labor is still in short supply. It’s very difficult to find or attract labor. That’s an ongoing issue, trying to attract people to work. We don’t know if that’s ever going to be resolved or not. We’re probably running 10 percent short on average. You just have to make up for it by planning your crops out: Don’t try to overplant where you know you can’t harvest it all when it comes off. Your plantings get spread out a little bit further. It’s something we have planned for the last few years, trying to cope with it.

Issue Date: November 9, 2016
By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

Planting new alfalfa fields has been in full swing since Oct. 1. We have had unusually high populations of leafhopper, aphid and fleabeetle. Establishing a new stand has been particularly difficult and challenging this fall. Alfalfa prices are almost 50 percent down from previous highs.

We are also planting garlic and onions currently. Last year's garlic yields were off by approximately 15 percent. Not sure why, but that seemed to be the case throughout the state.

Commodity prices overall are not doing very well, and this may be a year when "tighten up the belt" may be in order. Wheat contracts are down in price by 10 percent from historic levels. As the dog days of summer pass, fall provides a welcome relief but keeps us very busy planting various crops.

Issue Date: November 9, 2016
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

We finished rice harvest on our farm about three weeks ago, just before the major rains started. Around the country, I think there is about 20 percent of the crop still to be harvested. So here we are in November, still harvesting rice. That's not unheard of, but it is infrequent that harvest drags on that long.

We had one of the wettest Octobers ever, so that really delayed the harvest. An interesting phenomenon this year was how slowly the crop dried down to a moisture level that is conducive to harvest. It just seemed to hold on for a long time, so we got a bit of a late start and harvest dragged on because we had to start and stop quite a bit waiting for the rice to dry down.

Yields were well above average and qualities have come back quite variable, overall good, but a few disappointing ones in the lots I received back. I planted the new variety M209 this year in one field and was amazed. The field I planted it in has problems and is my worst looking field, and yet it had one of the best yields. So I am definitely going to give that variety a try in one of my better fields next year.

The price outlook is not very good. There seems to be a lot of rice in the world, but commodities in general are down, so this is just one of those times that we have to ride out.

We are cleaning up our machines, getting them ready to store for the winter. We are also getting ready to plant some wheat, but that big amount of rain that we had in October has kept us out of the field and also put a damper on getting fields ready for sunflowers next year.

Issue Date: November 9, 2016
By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County diversified farmer

It has been a long time since we have had to farm around a wet October, and it hasn't been pretty. Those that were able to get work done early are further along in fall ground prep and planting, but many that were focused on finishing up harvests are finding themselves behind, with saturated conditions and nothing planted for fall.

We had a few fields of alfalfa that had been cut a week before the first rains in October that we couldn't get baled, but other than that our harvests were completed. Minimum tillage becomes the modified rule of the day in order to reduce compaction. Rarely does a farmer in this part of the valley wish for north wind, but …

My immediate neighborhood has suddenly had to face the real probability of one or two "legal" outdoor marijuana grows—land selling and very soon thereafter fenceposts driven, creating an acre or more contained within. There is very real concern about what this means to neighbors' security, quality of rural life and land values.

The amounts of cash that are involved in these operations are breathtaking, and confound traditional agricultural models. Why wouldn't a landowner take cash for more than he/she was offering their property for? What happens after the first year— assuming the grow is successful—do the growers do it again, or do they walk away?

Yolo County very recently passed a prohibition on outdoor marijuana grows, but the 100 or so that had their paperwork submitted before it was passed will likely be allowed to proceed. At a time when many traditional commodity prices are at or near historic lows, this issue makes a farmer question his sanity, and challenges his ethics.

Issue Date: October 26, 2016
By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

We're still plugging away with harvest. We started back up (Oct. 18) after the rains over the weekend. We're probably a good seven to eight days from being done with harvest. A lot of the farm has been harvested, and the fall straw decomposition work is completed and fields are flooded up. A lot of birds are here. We're ready for duck season starting this Saturday. We have a good portion of our farm we hunt ducks on as well.

We also operate a drying and storage facility, and it looks like we're about 70 to 80 percent complete on deliveries. We'll be, probably in the next 10 to 15 days, wrapped up with receiving rice as well.

Rice harvest went well. The yields all seemed to be right around average, or maybe a little above average on some certain fields, but overall, good yields and quality so far. We have a little bit of weather maybe coming our way first of (this) week, and we will just deal with that as it comes.

A lot of what happens in 2017 is what happens over the winter for us, waterwise. If we have a good strong winter where we get average or above-average rainfall and snowpack, we anticipate we should be able to farm all of our acres, as we did this year. It is a bit early, but hopefully, we have a good winter and we need it. Based on all the contracts for the different water districts, we had 100 percent delivery, so we were able to plant 100 percent of our acres this year, versus last year, where 40 percent of our acres were fallow.

It's one of my favorite times of the year, the fall and the harvest, and seeing all the birds coming into the valley here, waterfowl and shorebirds visiting these fields, and start of duck season.

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