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From the Fields® - September 7, 2011

By Valeri Severson, Yuba/Sutter County beekeeper

At this time of year, beekeepers are contemplating easing into the fall and winter months by preparing hives for next year's almond pollination. But this year is altogether different, due to the odd weather we've experienced. July was one of the coolest on record and spring rains delayed seed crops that require pollination by honeybees.

Several California apiarists have moved their bees to Northern states, hoping for a good honey crop. Currently, the honey market is on the positive side.

Most of us keep our employees working as long as we can. Soon, we'll be feeding pollen substitute and sugar to build up our bees, medicating the ones that require it. Beekeepers pour money into each one of these special honeybee families and we watch them either increase in number or sometimes dwindle away, no matter what we try. Our business is one that cannot be mechanized. We depend on our hands, knees and backs as well as luck to get the job done.

Honeybees play an important role in agriculture. A cooperative effort between every grower, pesticide advisor, applicator and beekeeper is imperative in order to maintain a vital California agricultural community.

By Stacy Gore, Butte County diversified farmer

It is safe to say that summer finally arrived here in the North Valley. After months of uncooperative weather, we finally settled into a reasonable "normal" pattern of summer weather by mid-August. None too soon, I might add, as most crops are a little behind where we'd generally like to see them at this date on the calendar.

We are seeing head emergence in all of our field crops. The rice began heading in earnest in early August, and it seems that the later-planted fields may have been able to catch up a little, as they are heading out a few days faster than the earlier-planted fields. We have sunflowers that were planted at the very end of the planting season window, but somehow survived rain, hail and wind and are now in bloom. We also have some grain sorghum (milo) that is heading out nicely.

Like many almond growers in the North Valley, we are finishing up summer irrigating and prepping the orchards for the coming harvest. That, too, seems to have been pushed back by the cooler summer temperatures. Being a week or perhaps more later in the season isn't the end of the world, but most of us have last season's difficult harvest etched in our collective psyche. I for one enjoy a good challenge, but last year conditions moved from challenging to ridiculous by the end of harvest.

Here's to a safe, sane and profitable harvest season for everyone.

By Mary Cameron, Kings County dairy farmer

My production has been very good. I run a nine-gallon average. My cows can tolerate the heat because we have fans and misters. It's very cool in the barn. The only thing that's bad is when we have humidity. Then, we will drop some in production because cows hate humidity.

We're been able to get good-quality hay. We buy a lot of our hay from out of state. We also have 400 acres of corn, and they're coming off in another two or three weeks. The corn looks great, but of course, we irrigate. We don't have to depend on the weather like they do in other states.

We are very nervous about the coming year. There's going to be a shortage of hay, and because of supply and demand, we've been told the prices could go as high as $400 a ton. My grain prices are enormous, so things do not look too good.

The beef market is almost too tempting for us. We have a tendency to beef too many cows because the price received for beef is so good. And our milk price is good. We are receiving more for our milk. We're getting around $20 for a hundredweight, but our cost of production is soaring. Our cost of feed is going up so that we actually are not profiting at all. Just my grain bill, not my minerals or my hay, is $120,000 a month. It takes a big chunk out of your milk check.

By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery grower

Overall, this has been a good year, even with a bad first quarter due to the rains washing us out in March. We only have three good months in the color nursery business—March, April and May. The other months were OK, but we didn't quite catch up.

Beginning July 1, we took over another nursery's color business after their bankruptcy, including adding one of their greenhouses.

Otherwise, it has been an average year since April. We've tried to hold back on operating expenses, but diesel prices hit us really hard. Everything has to be delivered by truck.

Buying patterns were about the same as in past years. Consumers say they're buying more vegetable plants, but we didn't see it.

Now we're working on our three big crops for winter—chrysanthemums, poinsettias and cyclamen. Those crops are coming along pretty good. Chrysanthemums are already starting to sell.

We've got a big cyclamen crop at our operation in Salinas. We grow cyclamen there for all of our nursery locations in California and Texas, and it looks great. Salinas has perfect weather for that crop.

We've planted a bit more poinsettias this year that last. Color Spot is the largest poinsettia grower in the United States, so it's a big crop for us. We're just finishing up planting the small pots now.

We've also got our fall color crops going—primroses, pansies and violas. We're looking for a regular year, but that's because so many nurseries have gone out of business.

For the longer view, I'm concerned that people don't garden like they used to. They stay inside and play with electronics. And there's growing concern about using water for home landscaping. Everybody is talking about water.

Right now, there's no water in Texas. In California, water supplies are uncertain. That makes a difference when people think about planting gardens and using color.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

The winegrapes in San Joaquin County are a little bit behind schedule. Harvest really started to get going around the first of September. It seems like the yields are normal to slightly below normal. The quality seems to be very good. It is hard to predict what is going to happen as far as rain in the fall and everything else.

It has been a very strange weather year and it has delayed the crop. There are some varieties that seem to be more normal, but it is probably more related to the yields than anything. When the yields are a little below normal, they tend to come on a little bit earlier with the sugar.

I think the varieties that have a decent crop on them are tracking a little bit later than normal.

We have been very blessed that we haven't had a lot of 100-plus degree temperatures. A lot of times when the temperatures spike, it does more damage to crops than good. We have had a mild summer and below-mild spring and that has caused some delays in the crop.

So far, labor seems to be OK. Of course, when harvest gets into full swing it is hard to predict. And there are other commodities like tomatoes and walnuts that are tracking later. I think in general all crops are late.

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