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From the Fields® - April 13, 2011

By Al Medvitz, Solano County diversified grower

At the moment we are sending some goats off to market. We have a premier goat trade. We supply goats to several San Francisco Bay Area restaurants. We are doing very well. This is kidding season so we are sending off last year's crop and kidding new goats, so that we don't do it at the same time as our lambing.

Our lambing has finished and we are planning our market with Diamond Ranch over the next year.

We are planning to provide lamb to supply the increase in demand for Easter. That holiday is always a little difficult for us because our lambing goes on over the winter and so when the lambs are ready for market it sometimes is a little bit later than Easter. Easter is later this year, which is actually helping us.

The spring rains throughout the state have held back sheep shearing because you can't shear wet sheep. We just finished shearing last week. Unlike New Zealand, we don't have big shearing sheds where we would keep the animals indoors. Like many other commodities, wool prices and lamb prices are going up. Wool prices are better than they have been in a long time.

We are expanding our sheep and goat flocks slowly. We set a goal a couple years ago to slowly increase our flocks during the time when the dollar was very strong in Australia and New Zealand and the concentration in the packing industry caused California and national flocks to really decrease. The processing houses were really depending on imports. However, with the decline of the dollar, the imports suddenly got really expensive. Now there is this shortage that we saw coming, so we have maintained our flock and we are now adding to it in a consistent way. Prices are pretty strong, but the question is how that will affect demand. As long as demand holds, that's fine.

We have 50 acres of grapes that we put in as an experiment. During all the rain and cold we haven't been able to get to them, so now we are going in and taking care of the vineyard with weeds and tying the new vines and that sort of thing. We are getting everything ready for our summer fallow and after that the harvest.

We planted pinot noir and gew├╝rztraminer. We have a contract to produce the grapes and will not be making wine ourselves.

By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

Due to cold and inclement weather during almond bloom, bees continued to populate and sustain as long as they were fed. Colonies are slow to be removed from the almond orchards, as the later varieties are slow to finish. Bees are in short supply for the early blooming cherries.

Queen rearing operations are on target; however, temperatures for good mating have not been too good in most locations.

With the abundance of rain, we foresee good forage and a better than average honey year.

As is with most years, it is still early to predict what the rest of the seasons have to offer.

By Pat Borelli, Merced County diversified farmer

The new year started off wet with an accumulation of almost 3 inches of rain during one week in late March. This excess rain has caused the fields to be extremely soft, and therefore hard to work. Fortunately for our operation, we were able to finish pre-irrigating the cotton ground. We are now getting into the fields to work cotton beds.

The cooler weather took a toll on the older stands of alfalfa, restricting their growth. In addition, the stands got hit by gophers. We were able to get all our weeds sprayed early, although it didn't seem to keep them under control. We sprayed for weevils the first part of March and it seems to be holding.

The good news is the winter wheat and forage look good with all the late rain; it always feels better when you get irrigation water free from Mother Nature.

This is the first year our operation is trying our hand in growing dryland grain wheat. We had hoped for a late spring rain to get the crop off to a good start and our request was answered. Our intentions in planting this crop were due to shortage of water with the Del Puerto Water District. At the beginning of the season, we were unclear what the distribution of water was going to be, so we decided to plant a dryland grain. Since this is a new venture for our operation it will be a learning curve for us, hopefully with a great outcome.

Prices for commodities look good for this year. Since water deliveries look good, this season the only thing we should be watching is fuel prices. We all know everything follows the price of fuels.

By Joe Martinez, Yolo County nut grower

Right now, we are really far behind in our ground cover work. We'll start mowing grass and tilling the fields soon. We have had an awful time trying to get in there because of the rains. The ground is just now getting dry enough to go out there and start mowing again, and now the forecast is for more rain. We are definitely falling behind on our groundwork. But, other than that we're coming along. Our pruning is pretty much done. The strip sprays and weed sprays are pretty much done. It's just mowing and groundwork that is what we are falling behind on.

The almond bloom is pretty sporadic. It's not a disaster, but it's certainly not a banner year. I wouldn't say it's average, probably a point below average. Not only did it rain during bloom, even when we didn't have rain, temperatures were in the 50s. Bees don't like to fly unless it's warmer. I think the cold kept them in the hives. There is a crop out there. Some people have a good crop; some people have a disastrous crop. I'm kind of mediocre. It's hit and miss in my orchards. Some varieties are doing better than others. Normally by this time of year I would know one way or the other what the crop is going to be, but right now all I know is it is not going to be a bumper crop.

The walnuts are just starting to bloom now. They are about 10 days behind schedule as far as blooming because of the cold and rain, which is fine. Any expected rain won't hurt them as they are just now starting. Overall the weather looks good. We should be OK on the walnuts, I would think. Walnuts are self pollinating, but it is also a wind thing. The wind carries the pollen. We grow Chandlers and Hartleys, but there may be other varieties that are a little further along. Ours tend to be later blooming varieties.

Walnuts tend to be a little bit alternate bearing. I wouldn't call them alternate bearing, but they do tend to take a little breather. Last year was a big crop so this year we expect it to be a little bit smaller.

By Sean Curtis, Modoc County beef producer

We are just watching the water accumulate in the reservoirs right now. Our hay is under snow. This is the first time in three or four years that this has actually happened. This corner of the state kind of got left out of last year's decent precipitation that the rest of the state got. We don't normally see a first crop of hay in this neck of the woods until about the first of June. The snow won't hurt a bit—it is helping fill the soil profile and for those of us that depend on surface water for our irrigation, it is looking better than it has for about five years.

This time of year with our beef cattle, we are finishing up calving and starting to get the calves worked so that if you have a grazing permit most of the "on" dates are the first of May, which is only a few weeks away. However, if it stays wet we will probably be held off a little longer than normal because they don't like to turn out cattle if it is real muddy.

We normally market our cattle in late fall. Right now all we have are the cows and fresh calves. Right now the prices are,w frankly, remarkable. However, it looks like we are going to see remarkable fuel prices also. Let's hope the cattle prices stay strong. While this is troubling, it's better than having the remarkable fuel prices with the old cattle prices.

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