From the Fields® - January 1, 2020

By Doug McGeoghan, Colusa County rice grower

It is the day after Christmas, and although it seemed this fall that the unseasonably warm and dry weather would last forever, we in Northern California now find ourselves at 85% or so of normal precipitation and the snow pack at well above 100% of average, with a goodly portion of the rainfall season still ahead.

Rice crop year 2019 began with significant challenges, given the late winter and early spring rains which resulted in many of our fields showing standing water well into April, with significant flood damage to fields and irrigation infrastructure. We managed to get the necessary repairs made and the damaged fields regraded in time to plant the 2019 rice crop between the 15th and 25th of May. While later than we prefer, it seems to be becoming the "new normal."

Well into preparing the last couple of hundred acres, we were caught by heavy rains with the aqua fertilizer application completed but the seedbed saturated, rough and unfinished with no dry starter fertilizer applied. Heavy clay soils can become anaerobic with persistent showers prior to flooding for planting, often resulting in severe weed problems and poor rice seedling vigor.

As re-tilling the fields with expensive fertilizer already in the ground was not an option, we were grateful to have old spike-tooth harrow carts in the yard, which we utilized to scratch up the wet ground to make a little dust and a semblance of a seedbed. Despite the less than ideal conditions, and some seedling vigor problems early on, we were pleased to see satisfactory weed control and good field yields and quality.

It was a completely different scene in the rice country this fall. Hundreds of pieces of haying equipment including swathers, tractors with rakes and balers, trucks, trailers and hay squeezes were actively gathering and stockpiling enormous amounts of rice straw, which will ultimately supply the new manufacturing plant west of Willows when it goes into production.

There have been numerous in-field practices employed over the years to deal with the troublesome rice straw residue. We have employed chopping and shredding, tillage and flooding for decomposition, etc. To date, few of the off-field uses for the straw have resulted in any major utilization of the many hundreds of thousands of tons of straw the industry generates annually. Hopefully, this alternative use will further contribute positively to the sustainability of the California rice industry.

By Keith Brandt, Lake County winegrape and tree-crop grower

As 2019 comes to a close, the grapevines, pear and walnut trees are in a deep dormant sleep. The late fall rains have been a welcome addition as soil water levels are slowly coming up to field capacity. Hopefully, we'll all continue to receive rain at regular intervals during the coming weeks. We have begun pruning pear trees and anticipate completion in early February. There will be 1-2 dormant sprays for the pear trees to apply before bud break in late March. In the vineyards, attention will be turning to herbicide application as weather conditions permit and the start of vine pruning about the middle of January. We also have some vineyard development projects underway and we'll continue with ground preparation and trellis installation (again, as weather permits).

As we look forward to 2020, there is always the sense of optimism as the next growing season approaches. May we offer our best wishes to all for prosperous New Year. Sadly, for some growers, that optimism will turn to the difficult decision for closure. Increased operating and labor costs, increased regulation and the associated cost(s), and lack of or renewal of production contracts will all be factors being considered—to continue operations or to fallow the vineyard block or orchard. In some instances, these decisions will involve vineyard blocks and orchards which have been in production for multiple generations. Hopefully, for these growers, these challenges can be overcome, but the economic realities involved will make it a very difficult task.

By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

Beekeepers now have their bees in winter locations or stored in buildings. Beginning around Jan. 10, beekeepers and almond growers will see the move in begin.

The price for American honey has softened recently, but for now, it's a time for repairs, planning, preparation and agreements between growers and beekeepers. Beekeepers need strong relationships with their almond growers.

Another 300,000 acres of almonds will soon be in production, increasing demand for pollination services. We are working with our growers on hive strength, stocking rates and sustaining both our industries.

Project Apis m. and the Bee Informed Project lead the beekeeping industry in hive health research.

The Seeds for Bees program offers many advantages for enrolled almond acreage including: improving soil, retaining moisture, fighting nematodes, improving hive nutrition, better sustaining the soil, the bees, and the trees that we work together on to make productive.

We will soon be in the orchards.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

It's been raining off and on, just enough to keep things wet, not enough to stop work in the almond orchards. We are mummy shaking, applying amendments, winterizing irrigation systems, applying pre-emergent herbicide and preparing for dormant spray.

After a late start, our winter wheat crop looks good and these regularly scheduled winter showers are just what they need.

This is our first winter without dairy cows. Usually this time of year we are managing the corrals, but today we are thinking of our dairy neighbors and wish them the best for the new year. Hoping that dairy prices will continue to rise and help them dig out of a 5-year-long hole. We also wish the industry well in arriving at a consensus to end the quota struggle plaguing the industry.

As I type this it's the day after Christmas, which is a good opportunity to reflect on what we have to be grateful for. We are grateful that agriculture creates for us the possibility of working side by side with our family and being a contribution to our community. We are grateful to live and work in such a large and diverse state that provides us access to markets, technology, and consumers like nowhere else on Earth.

Our New Year's resolution is to continuously find ways to improve the natural resources entrusted to us. We also strive to understand the 99% of Americans that are not farmers in order that we can meet their expectations for a safe, healthy, nutritious and environmentally beneficial food supply.

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

We are over 10 inches of rain so far for the season, which is helping recharge both ground and surface storage to the delight of everyone.

Pruning has started in earnest with trees and vines. Some farms have begun strip spraying in between rainy weather but for the most part everyone has slowed down. The winegrape market has been and will continue to be slow and growers are trying to find contracts for 2020.

Due to the rain, logging has all but ceased on the North Coast. The good news is the rain is here and forecasts for snow look good.