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From the Fields® - May 16, 2012

By Mitch Sangha, Fresno County raisin farmer

We're at bloom time on the grapes. They started bloom on May 8; that's when the berries start forming. We're irrigating and fertilizing right now. We're also trying to control mildew with fungicide at this time.

Last year we were behind schedule, but this year it looks like we're on schedule with the Thompson seedless, the raisin grapes. We've had 90-degree temperatures, so that's moving everything up. We're probably 15 degrees above normal for this time of year. Everything grows by heat units, and the higher temperatures are really moving everything along.

Disease pressure looks normal so far. But this heat will move everything up, because the bugs work off of the heat units also. So we might get a little more mite pressure earlier with this heat.

The crop looks lighter than last year. The bunch counts are down. We're probably about 19 percent down from a year ago, so we're anticipating less tonnage. We've had two years of good crops, and I think it's just the vines resting a little bit. We also had no rain in November, December and January, so that might have something to do with it also.

I'm still doing the traditional method of drying the grapes. Because we were late last year, we got hit with rain. When the crop is late, everybody is trying to pick all at once, so it kind of created a labor shortage. We're hoping for earlier maturity this year. That way we have enough labor and we can stretch our harvest a little longer. We've had it as early as the 20th of August. Last year, the maturity wasn't there and a lot of growers waited until the 10th of September to pick. And with raisins, for insurance coverage, you have to be done by Sept. 20, so that gives you only a 10-day window. If we can go as early as the 25th of August, that will give us three weeks of harvest. Right now, the crops are light enough where the vines can mature earlier. It's nice to pick early because there's less risk of rain.

By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher

We're getting ready to wean our calves. We have a 60-day breeding season and that has just finished. We waited about 45 days and palpated to confirm pregnancy.

Our artifically inseminated calves are born about August and the naturally bred calves arrive sometime in September or October.

The grass is looking pretty good, but it will be short this year. We got the moisture we needed late and it was cold during the early spring. Our grass didn't grow like it would have if we'd gotten rains in December and January.

With pretty cows, one of the things we face in the urban/rural interface is people wanting to be part of the open space. It's tough when we find people who want to get out and walk in the pastures. It's not a huge problem for us, but it happens.

As far as prices go, beef prices are pretty high, but they fall back when problems come up. One thing we think about with prices is the expense of raising the animals.

The question for us is whether the net is any different when beef prices are high. It's pretty tough to prove that the net is up these days. Our operation is very small, so anything that gets done on the ranch we do ourselves.

We raise Beefmaster cattle. It's a specific breed: 25 percent Hereford, 25 percent Shorthorn and 50 percent Brahman. That's the way the breed began in the 1920s. The cattle received official breed status in the 1960s, one of the only official American breeds.

We sell high quality beef, but there's also demand for our bull semen for breeding purposes because of the hybrid vigor, which incorporates the best in those breeds.

But, really, we're grass farmers first. That's what supports the cattle and that's what we're waiting on this spring—the grass.

By Tim Miramontes, Yolo County rice farmer

This has really been a messed up year. We about a month behind where we should be. The last few days of warmer temperatures have helped out tremendously, but it is still wet out here and it is that way for all the rice guys. The row crop farmers are doing OK, but the rice guys are way behind where we should be throughout the whole state. Fertilizer prices have gone through the roof. Things aren't looking good right now.

I like to be planted between the first and 15th of May and this year I will probably not put water on until May 20 and begin planting around the 25th. This will put a lot of pressure on us in the fall. It is going to be really tough because everything got planted late—corn, rice, and the rest of it—and it is all going to be coming off at the same time. There is going to be a shortage of truckers and a backup at the dryers. It is going to be an interesting year.

Where I farm, we are already using shorter-season varieties of rice. We are in such a cool area that it is tough to do anything different.

There were problems in the beginning because weeds were the only thing going. These high temperatures are helping out a lot in getting the ground dried out.

By Kulwant Johl, Sutter County peach and prune farmer

The peaches I have are canned peaches. We're pruning them right now. This is also the time of year when we're starting to irrigate and putting some fertilizer on. We're also mowing the grass in the orchard.

The crop looks very good, with good set. The crop is at a stage where inside the fruit is just starting to harden. That's why we're thinning the fruit, because there are too many on the trees. With peaches, you always have to thin because you want large fruit. There's a certain ring that the canneries use to grade them, and if the fruit goes through that, then they don't take it.

For the prunes, we're also starting to irrigate. We're mowing the grass and putting fertilizer and potash on them. They bloom about the same time as peaches. The prune crop looks very good too.

For both crops, there was good bloom, even though it rained quite a bit during bloom, but we still lucked out and don't have any problems.

I have about 12 different varieties of peaches. We have peach varieties that we start harvesting around July 15 and varieties that are harvested all the way up to Sept. 10, which is when we finish.

Most of the prunes are just one variety, and when they're ripe, they'll last around four or five days. We start harvesting prunes around Aug. 15 and get done by the first week of September.

By Case Van Steyn, Sacramento County dairy farmer

Right now, we are finishing up the silage and spring hay crops and turning around and coming back to work the ground to prepare it for corn for fall harvest. That is keeping us busy seven days a week trying to get caught up because of the late rain this spring that caused some delays.

I've always produced all of my silage and part of my hay. I still have to buy the grains and minerals and corn. And obviously corn, alfalfa hay and cottonseed have been at record-setting high prices. That hopefully will level off some as we go into early summer, but I haven't seen it yet.

It is going to be a challenge economically, as prices right now are as bad as they were in 2009 on a comparison basis. Feed prices have doubled and milk prices have not kept pace. To be even, we would have to be at $18 milk right now and we are at $14, so we are worse off than we were in 2009.

We are all sitting around on pins and needles hoping someone else goes broke before us. If enough people go broke or get out of the business, the price will come back and the rest of us who are left will survive and eventually rebuild what we've lost.

I have been in this all my life. There has always been some sanity and some plan—it wasn't always perfect—but there was something out there. We need an economic situation in agriculture where it is a give and take instead of just all one way.

My parents were in the dairy business and I stayed with it. I've never seen anything like this. Any other business would just lock the door and walk away, but I have animals and I have to feed them and take care of them. I can't just walk away, so we are going back to the bank and borrowing more money.

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