From the Fields® - February 6, 2013

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By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain farmer

Most often, this time of year is too wet and foggy for field work, which means we're cooped up in the shop doing equipment maintenance. This year, however, we had a cold and dry spell that has allowed us to get out and work some fields.

We were fortunate to have adequate early rains to sprout up the volunteer crop, so with a little Roundup we should get a nice, clean crop this summer. Our primary hay markets are retail stores and horse stables, so we target quality and forego the big volume.

Normal practice has been to plant in late February and March, but the dry weather makes me want to get going now. However, planting early runs the risk of coming ripe too early and getting the cut hay rained on.

Our winter wheat crop was planted in November. It looked really good until a couple weeks ago when we went into about 10 days of nightly freezing. This really doesn't hurt the crop, but with the singed tips, it sure looks rough for awhile. Neighboring pasture and silage crops don't look very good either, but once the sun comes out, that will all change in a hurry.

We also grow a couple hundred acres of barley for grain. Barley doesn't provide the dollars per acre return that wheat does, but the inputs are a little less, and I have an eager market, so I grow some of each. Barley is very sensitive to wet conditions, so we haven't begun to plant it yet.

The past two years have been very good to hay and grain farmers. I bought a couple of shiny new tractors to keep my employees happy and make the farm more efficient. Sure feels good and we're looking forward to a promising new crop year.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County orchardist

We've had ample rain and chill hours. The trees are in full dormancy right now, but I expect we'll have a good bloom this season.

We expect bloom to occur in the almonds between Feb. 15 and 20, which is about the right time. The beehives have been placed into almond orchards.

We've been pruning the walnuts and spraying late-winter and early-spring herbicides. I'm very optimistic.

Last season our wal nut yields were down—in some orchards as much as 25 percent, in others only 10 percent. It was all over the board. I'm hoping for a rebound in yields this year.

We've had about 15 inches of rain in the Winters area, adequate moisture for the orchards. The good cold weather combined with that makes me very optimistic.

What we need now is a dry bloom period for the almonds so the bees can do their job. Things look positive at the moment.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial County diversified grower

We’re in the process of harvesting citrus—lemons and Murcotts, a mandarin variety—but we had to fight through the cold snap. We came through it fine, although we had some temperature readings in the mid-20s.

We’ve been following the quarantine protocols to prevent the spread of Asian citrus psyllid. If anyone is taking citrus out of this county into a non-quarantine packinghouse, the citrus must be cleaned first.

We’re part of the local packinghouse in Calipatria and have packed all our product locally. There’s real concern about the psyllid. State and federal agencies have been working hard to establish protocols and create a defense against this pest and further infestation.

Harvesting citrus is a challenge for California and Arizona citrus growers right now.

Our biggest concern was the early sweet corn deal. But after evaluating our fields, I’m pleased that we had almost no complete losses. There was some minimal damage to fields in the colder areas. We’re pleased that our crop looks to be fine.

There has been some high pricing in the vegetable arena, but there’s very little growers can do to slow product down. Through November and much of December, we were well above average temperature-wise, then the temperatures began to change.

We tried to hold products back, but there was almost nothing we could do. It was such a dramatic turn in the weather. We found ourselves in November about two weeks ahead of schedule on all commodities, then the extended cold period has created one of the largest production gaps I’ve seen in a long time.

Now we’re back into nice weather. It has been a roller coaster, dramatic on both ends.

Typically, cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens are harvested in Imperial until about mid-March, but the heat has sped things up. We probably have a week or so to go before we catch up with where we normally are this time of year.

Once we get these crops off, we’ll start harvesting sweet corn in April. Our desert melons are maturing on time and the crop looks good for likely harvest in May. With all the new varieties and growing techniques, we can now produce crops in the desert well into June.

Although the winter started poorly, we’re made up lost ground and the markets have strengthened nicely.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice farmer

It's hard to believe January is behind us already. It seems like just yesterday our crews were finishing post-harvest work in the fields, cleaning up tillage and harvest equipment and putting everything under cover.

On a happy note, we've been blessed with some early rain and snow, with both Shasta and Oroville reservoirs already at 75 percent of capacity, hopefully avoiding the water worries of last winter/early spring.

We've made the usual seasonal transition from producing rice fields to providing habitat for wintering waterfowl and other birds, with most of the fields flooded with water several inches deep. Last fall, we did things a little bit differently in that we removed straw from some of the fields prior to flooding.

Dating back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the advent of significant changes in the regulations regarding burning of rice fields, we used a number of expensive methods to decompose the straw in-field. These included chopping, rolling the fields after flooding, and sometimes doing some light tillage prior to flooding to get the straw in contact with the soil, where the soil organisms could break the straw down more rapidly.

When the rice straw burning legislation became law, the industry was hopeful that economically viable uses for the rice straw would be developed on a large scale. While any number of uses have been explored over the years, growers have continued to shoulder a fairly significant expense to deal with the straw post-harvest, whether they deal with it in-field or remove it.

This harvest season, however, saw a number of contractors active around the valley, removing straw from rice fields at relatively little and, in some instances, no expense to growers. It appears a growing number of practical uses have been found, which allows better habitat management and lower field maintenance costs.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County orchardist

Our trees are doing well. The almond buds are starting to swell and push. I think we'll see bloom on the early varieties in two or three weeks. That will be pretty much in the normal time frame.

The orchards with lighter soil are starting to dry out and people are working on their replants in the orchards. On the heavier ground it's still on the wet side, but getting close.

Everyone is done spraying. We're finishing up pulling mummies on the almonds to control navel orangeworm. We're getting ready for the busy season when the almonds start blooming.

Then it will be a constant watch between the weather and when we have to apply fungicide sprays. Then we'll start worrying about frost issues. We've got our sprinkler systems set up for frost control, so they're ready to go.

The beekeepers are setting the hives in the almond orchards right now in preparation for bloom season. This is the lull before the storm. We're busy and about to get busier.