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From the Fields® - March 21, 2012

By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County hay producer

I am a hay producer in the Imperial Valley and our year is starting out great. The weather has been cooperative; we haven't had the rain or the cold weather. We are done with our first cutting and just starting our second cutting. Prices are down about $20 to $30 a ton on alfalfa from where they were a year ago, but the production seems to be doing well.

Regarding the other crops that we grow in the Imperial Valley, we are just finishing up our harvest on the winter vegetables and leaf lettuces. Our wheat is starting to head out now and we look for an early harvest on the wheat in early to mid-May. Again, those yields will probably be normal to a little higher than normal. Because of the increased market price on wheat, I pay a little bit more attention to inputs and fertilizer rates and things like that to boost yields. Our wheat harvest is expected to come off good.

We are starting to think about our summer plantings of grasses. Seed is limited on sudan grass, so people are scrambling for seed to plant for sudan. It looks like the prices on sudan will be somewhat higher this year, just because seed is limited. So we think we will have a good year on that production.

Our water situation is fine. Short term, we have a plentiful amount that we can use this year. Our district hasn't declared a supply-demand imbalance. We think that next year might be the first year that they declare it. Last year, we were over about 130,000 acre-feet all over the district, which was less than 1 percent of our allotment, but we were still over. If we are over again this year, it might force our irrigation district to declare a supply-demand imbalance and that could cause a loss of production in certain crops, probably the summer grasses like sudans and bermudas. But this year we are looking pretty good.

The rest of the state is dry this year and it causes Imperial Valley farmers to be more optimistic, because we have the water and maybe we can make up some of that lost production and probably prices will be good and we can fill some of those markets.

By Noel Stehly, San Diego County diversified grower

We're about halfway through our navel orange season and starting on our golden nugget tangerines. The blackberries are flowering and they'll be in production soon. And we've got plenty of bees to do the work around the farm.

But we grow tropical fruit in a desert climate and we're always hoping for rain. This year is no exception. It's always dry in San Diego County and we worry about the price of water.

Our avocados also are just starting, with the seasonal ramp-up in the next few months, and then the crop will go through late September into early October. Mexican avocados will be in the market until about June, when they'll go out with their "flora loco" campaign. We call it fruit from an "off bloom" and don't get much of it here.

Our organic avocado crop is set pretty heavy, which seems to be the case generally with the crop throughout our area. The biggest challenge we're facing is the price of water and reliability.

We just turned on our new solar system for our packing shed and we've finished planting five acres of dragon fruit (a cactus fruit). It's a pretty crop when it starts flowering. We'll probably have some fruit to take to market in September, probably a small amount we'll sell locally.

By Tom Stirewalt, San Benito County wheat grower

In our area, we are very dry. We didn't even have 3 inches of rain before this current series of storms. The storms that had been coming through only gave us 25-hundredths of an inch of rain at the maximum for each storm that came through. So consequently, I elected not to plant and I am thankful that I didn't plant. For those that did plant, their crops look terrible; they are the same as dead.

When I do plant wheat, I have two options: I can grow grain or hay. On short years I can cut it for hay and it makes very good hay. It is horse-quality hay. So it gives me a little versatility in that.

I don't have water to irrigate the land, so it will lay idle until next year. I normally plant around Christmastime and into January. That way I get a germination of the fallow stuff and have a chance to work that into the ground or spray it with herbicide and then drill my wheat in. Anytime after the first of July, the wheat is mature enough to harvest for grain. If we make hay out of it, we usually harvest in early June and once in awhile late May.

I will be hoping for a good Christmas in 2012 because it will take another 12 months to get a crop.

By Steve Kafka, Calaveras County timber producer

It has been very dry in the Sierra this year and a lot of areas have opened up early for work because of the lack of snow. What snow we've had has melted off pretty quickly.

Tree planting season has started and that's going pretty well. Mostly we're planting Ponderosa pines, firs, including cedars, and giant Sequoias. We aren't growing enough Sequoia yet to make it viable in the commercial market, but we're growing it to see if the market interest is there.

We've got the mill back online in Sonora and almost everybody is back to work. The logging contracts have been awarded, which is early this year. The last couple of years, people have had to wait a lot longer to see if they'd have work. But with the mill up and running, there's more optimism.

I'm hearing concerns about the upcoming fire season. We've been doing some controlled burning and things aren't burning like they should in March; instead of slow burns, the fire wants to take off. There just hasn't been enough moisture this year.

But I think we're setting up for a productive year. Having the mill open is great and hopefully, with the economy improving, that will mean better markets for lumber. I think it will add up to a better year than the ones we've seen recently.

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

Not much has been going on because I've only had a little bit over 2 inches of rain all winter. I tried to plant a little bit at the end of January, which was basically my planting deadline. I did about 40 acres and decided to quit, because my ground was so dry I didn't think the seed was even going to germinate.

I have rainfall records since the 1930s. My grandfather kept them and then my dad and now I am keeping track of them for the Department of Water Resources. I was looking back over my records and I saw that this will be the eighth year since 1930 that I failed to have 5 inches of rain in a season. But of those eight years, four of them have been since 1999. So it is happening more frequently.

The last couple years have been good, so I am kind of able to weather one bad year, but if there is a second dry year, there could be problems.

We have had a lot of storms come through. They act like they are coming in and then they will stall and go into San Diego. In fact, San Diego, if you go at percent of normal, they are at something like 80 percent of normal, the best in the state actually. They have had a lot of storms come through that missed me. The storms either go north of me or south of me.

There are always things to do, like barns to fix and fences to mend. I have a tractor that just went down and I will be working on that. I don't mind taking a year off once in awhile. And I'm not really taking a year off; I just start doing other things that I have been putting off for a few years.

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