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From the Fields® - November 2, 2011

By Shannon Wooten, Shasta County honey and beef producer

The honeybees are starting to drift back from summer pastures. We are putting on the final round of treatments for the different pathogens of mites and hopefully it will be good. The bees look very good this year. The bees did very well in the northern part of the state this year, so I think nutritionally they are in better shape than they have been in awhile. The numbers are good at this point in time, but it is in winter that we lose the bees. We are hoping that it won't happen because we think they are nutritionally better this year than they have been in awhile.

So things look pretty darn good in the bee world. There are lots of early orders for queens next spring, so we are getting geared up for that. But we have to address what's on hand now, and that's winter. We sell throughout the United States and Canada and historically into other countries, but not recently. Canada's demand is quite high, but it is difficult to ship up there because of the regulations and there are very few beekeepers up there who are willing to do it. I figure if I can sell everything I can produce right here in the states, then why would you work with another country?

We are weaning heifers right now. The first round of feeder sales are pretty much through. The steers are sold. The heifers are selling. We are picking replacement heifers right now and getting them fattened up. We have quite a few to look at and quite a few to pick. It just takes a little while to pick the best.

We will start moving the cows home from summer pasture shortly. Some have already come home and within the next 30 days we will have all of them home.

We are going to build our herd up. The numbers got down a little bit in the last couple years. But we've got feed now so we are going to start building the numbers back up.

By Michael David Fischer Jr., Calaveras County beef producer

Right now, we have just finished calving. We are getting ready to start processing, vaccinating and branding in another month.

We have been feeding a lot of supplemental feed lately. There have been a lot of acorns lately so we feed a lot of supplement to keep the cattle off them.

I am getting ready to plant some dryland pasture grass that I plant each year for hay.

The cattle market has been doing really well this past year. I sold some calves a week or so ago and we got some of the highest prices I have ever received since I've been in the business, and that is over 20 years. Costs are higher, that's for sure, but it has been nice to get a little bit more for the cull cows, bulls and for the calf crop.

I do feed hay somewhat and always keep a liquid feed out there with the cattle until the rains come. We have had a pretty good crop of pasture coming now. We got a pretty good rain about a month ago and we have about two to three inches of grass in the field.

I have to retain some heifers each year. It is really hard to find mature cows right now, with prices being what they are. A lot of people have culled heavy, so I have been keeping my own replacements.

I grow some dryland pasture hay for my own use—not a lot. This year I am going to put in about 40 acres of forage mix-type grain hay. Last year with the rains the way they came, I went ahead and cut it, windrowed it and then turned my heifers back in on the windrows, which worked really well. In past years, I have baled it and then stored it for winter.

The cattle business looks really good right now. It is the best we have seen and right now a guy can actually make a little money on them.

By Craig Knudson, Tulare County meat goat and blackberry producer

We just finished our berry harvest. We grow blackberries and the quality of our berries this year was great, yield was OK and price was better than expected. I market my berries direct to grocery stories and restaurants.

We also have meat goats. We are just finishing up our breeding season, which is rather noisy. Kidding starts five months after breeding. We breed for late December-January and then we breed for late February, March and into April. We keep them for about 90 days, when they weigh about 60 pounds.

We market them direct as well, with a lot of restaurant business. Eighty percent of the meat consumed in the world is goat meat. Now that is not true here in the United States, but it is a growing market and a very active market.

Other than that, we are getting ready for winter. Grass is growing. We got a good early rain, and we could use some more rain. We have to do some supplemental feeding to bring the goats home every evening. We have to put them away at night because of where we live and the predators—mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes.

I think people involved in agriculture have to be fairly optimistic about what is happening with agriculture and where it is going. Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace and always will be. But I think that looking at prices where they were and where they are headed, commodity prices, inputs, things like that, depending on where you are in that chain, you have to be fairly optimistic about the future of agriculture.

By George Tibbetts, Colusa County rice grower

Rice harvest in southern Colusa County is only now beginning to wrap up here in the last week of October. This is two to three weeks later than a normal year. For the most part, yields have been very good in our area, as was the case in 2010, which also was a year marked by cooler-than-average summer temperatures. I think this phenomenon has actually enhanced our rice yields the past two years. In any case, it certainly has increased the amount of time it takes for a rice crop to mature, and this is dangerous because it pushes harvest into late October and even November when the threat of rain greatly increases.

That threat became a reality with the storm that hit earlier in October. Many of us had been harvesting for about a week or so rice that ordinarily we would have waited on to dry down more (thereby saving on warehouse drying charges). But we knew the storm was coming well in advance, and that it would likely knock the crop over. It did. We went from harvesting rice that was too green but standing, to harvesting rice that eventually dried down but was lodged (a slower and more expensive process). But at least it was a good crop; Mother Nature simply made us work harder for it this year.

By Matt Bissell, Santa Cruz County timber operator

We're still working in the Sierra, finishing up logging. We have until Nov. 15, according to the rules.

The timber, mostly sugar pine and ponderosa pine, white fir and incense cedar, is taken to Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella. There, it's turned into high-quality interior trim products.

Although lumber prices are up, the pace of economic improvement is slow. I don't have a good outlook on what the market will look like next year. If lumber prices decline further, the people in the Sierra may not harvest next year.

As a registered forester, I work with a couple of well-established timber clients and they usually harvest every year, but the amount is adjusted depending on the market outlook. The margins in the Sierra are a lot less than they are with redwood in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We finished harvesting in the Santa Cruz Mountains about a month ago. Now we're putting gravel down on the roads, but that has been a problem since we got four inches of rain and the clay soils don't allow the moisture to soak in.

We're trying to button things up for the winter—spreading straw near streams and bare areas, laying gravel on the roads. Everything else is finished.

I'm looking forward to less running around, but that also means more paperwork, which isn't what I like the best. What I really look forward to in coming months is going into the woods and marking trees for next year's harvest.

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