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From the Fields® - April 18, 2012

By Pete Bauer, Mendocino County cattle producer

The rain finally started falling. The hay fields are putting on a little growth, which means the cattle have some grass to eat . But, I am feeding less hay.

I was worried for awhile we were going to find out just how dry California was capable of getting. I'm glad we didn't have to find out.

But we managed to make the most out of the mild winter. We built a lot of new fence and made repairs. We were also able to cut a lot of firewood, reclaiming some of our pasture land from fallen trees.

We've started blowing the cobwebs off of the hay machinery. It's time to make our spring repairs. And, I'm grateful to see we still have a good volume of hay left.

Calving has been good so far. Cows will be turned out on the permit pastures any day now. We still have a lot of marking and branding left to do, since the recent weather delayed it. All in all, it's just another day in paradise.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

It is April 9 today and we still have another 10 days of pruning to do. We are finishing up our latest varieties and finishing things up in the higher elevations. We started disking this week and things are going very well. At this time of year when we have storms coming in, a day or two following the storm we generally have increased possibilities of cold mornings and frost potential.

Right now, the only variety that we have out with leaves is chardonnay. We are hoping that by disking the ground we can raise the ambient air temperature at night by a couple degrees and buy a little protection from the frost.

This first pass on disking will help rot the grass and on the second pass of disking the ground should work really nice.

We started some vineyard development projects and we are doing some more. The grape market has really turned around and it is a good time to be a grape grower right now. We are one of the larger vineyard development companies in Northern California, and we have quite a bit on the books this year for vineyard development projects.

By Valerie Strachan-Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

We have just finished pollinating prune crops. Weather has hampered our queen bee production because of the time it requires for them to be out in the field for mating. Most beekeepers who are in queen bee production are about a week or two behind.

In some cases, customers of California bees have turned to Eastern producers because they've had such good weather. They're ahead.

But California bees, which we sell across the U.S and Canada, are in demand for packaged bees and queens. There has been a minor market clash because of the demand and reduced production.

Seed crops will be the next to pollinate—cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli. Soon onions will need pollination, then melons, cucumbers, squash and sunflower seeds. In the southern part of the state, we'll work with growers producing alfalfa seed.

Our employees are out delivering bees every day, some working seven days a week.

It's been a good season so far, but the rising of cost of fuel hurts us. You can't always pass along spikes in fuel costs. We contract in advance and often have to eat the increase.

Overall, our California bees look very healthy this year. Supply and demand for almond pollination was good. Now we're thinking ahead to summer and honey production.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

Spring has been slow to arrive and we've struggled to get our spring work done on a timely basis. Most of our first cutting of alfalfa got put off, but most of it has now been cut. A lot more than normal of it went to green chop rather than in a bale. We didn't have very many windows to put up bale hay.

There has been some cotton planted, but this is the third year in a row that we are going to be delayed in getting our cotton into the ground, which is a definite negative. It kind of limits our top end production right from the start.

The good news is that we are gathering up some additional moisture, which will be helpful this summer after our extremely dry winter.

The cereal crops are coming along nice with a lack of disease in all of the cereal crops, whether they be for forage or grain.

The pistachios are just breaking dormancy. We don't have any almonds, but I hear the almonds look decent.

We had a very unusual cherry blossom this year. It was extremely varied and nobody knows why. We had a lot of chill hours and would have expected a nice bloom, but it is really variable.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

We've just finished our prune bloom, which was one of the slowest progressing blooms I've ever seen in my life. How is that going to effect the crop? It's too early to tell.

We had good weather for pollination—not too hot and we had some added moisture. There was plenty of activity for setting the crop. But, when it's all said and done, it's too early to tell what that might mean for crop size.

With the almonds, we've been out spraying fungicides for scab control. We had very good weather for the almond bloom and the crop set is looking very good.

I have been wanting to upgrade some of our irrigation systems, and without enough water to go around comfortably, I decided to pull the trigger this year on the upgrade so we'll be able to conserve a bit more water.

With the weather drying out now, we're out mowing in the fields to get the grass down. It seems like the regular springtime routines.

For the moment, everything is under control. But, call me back in a couple of hours and it might be different.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice farmer

As I'm writing this from the ranch office in Delevan, we're getting some glimpses of sun through the rain clouds; it is 47 degrees outside. Our big square rice fields are already holding a fair amount of water and most are spilling into the drains. One could easily mistake this scene for mid-winter, not April 12.

While it is inconvenient to be kept out of the fields by these late rains, it looks like a price we farmers may be glad to pay. Just a few short weeks ago, early announcements by the state and federal agencies indicated that significant cuts in water supplies were likely. Since the first day of February, Shasta and Oroville lakes have picked up in excess of 1.5 million acre-feet of reservoir storage.

In the meantime, the debate continues as to whether the reduced rice plantings that would result from irrigation water cutbacks would provide the industry with the improvement in returns it truly needs to compensate for ever-increasing input costs.

Hopefully, the return to warmer and drier weather that is predicted for the coming weeks will come to pass, and once again the valley will come alive as the industry sets about planting the 2012 California rice crop.

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