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From the Fields® - November 7, 2012

By Kurt Hoekstra, Stanislaus County dairy farmer

Right now we're making sure we get bedding in for the heifers and stuff that's outside.

All the corn is harvested, chopped and in the pit. The biggest thing right now is making sure we get all our wheat and oats planted. Those will be harvested for silage. We have probably about 70 percent of it planted. We started that about two weeks ago and got interrupted with rain. So we did some more field prep. Once it dries out enough, we switch over to planting again, and last week we got rain again, so we had to go back to field prep again.

As far as milk production, the cows are probably thankful to see the hot weather and the summer leave. They like the cooler weather in the fall. Protein levels are coming up right now, which normally occurs in the fall.

On the health side, that's ongoing every day. We don't have any seasonal calving, so herd health is something we work on every day.

By Pat Borrelli, Madera County diversified grower

We finished cotton harvest last week. The yield was pretty decent. Picking conditions were good. We planted some wheat for hay and we are irrigating that. We're in the process of starting all over again—working the fields and getting ready for next year's cotton and tomatoes.

With the alfalfa, we're all done with the hay. We got seven cuttings, and we got all that off without any rain on it, so that was good. We got our last cutting off in the middle of October.

We're going to have tomatoes next year again, so we're getting the fields ready for tomatoes. We're working the ground, putting the beds in, and then we spray for weeds. The fields stay pretty clean until we're ready to work them next year.

We had a little bit of dry beans that we harvested this year. It looked pretty good on the yields. The prices were up a little bit from last year. But we did not have any freezer beans—green beans—this year, because the plant closed in Patterson. We don't know if we'll ever have green beans again. We might try some different things next year, but we just don't know at this time.

It's been a really good growing season this year. It wasn't too hot for the crops we had. So overall, it was a good year for growing. Mostly, yields were all good.

Fuel prices are always a concern. Our supply of water for next year is going to be the million-dollar question. We'll see what the winter brings and hopefully we get our water storage back up to where it's supposed to be.

By Tony Toso, Mariposa County cattle producer

Calves are being born now. They're being born all over the ranch. And, we're getting our first stocker calves from the Northwest. We'll keep them on the home ranch through the winter and get ready to market them in the spring.

We work with neighboring ranches to pool animals and create more volume to optimize our marketing efforts. I buy a lot of cattle and work with our local, cooperative ranches to offer animals for sale to a feedlot in Nebraska, for example.

So, we're working on two crops at once—a calf crop and a stocker crop. That means we're branding and vaccinating before turning the cattle out to grass on the ranch.

We got a little rain and that always helps get the grass started after the summer. It wasn't a lot of rain, but I'm not complaining. I'll take rain any time we can get it.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

We finished harvesting our 2012 rice crop in late October and, as always, it is a relief to finally have it all in the warehouse. The overall yield was almost average for us, perhaps a sack or two under. The interesting thing was the variability from field to field. Our first-year ground was phenomenal, while the older fields ranged from a bit above average yield to as low as 10 percent below average. I attribute that variability to fertility issues caused by last year's rice straw.

On our farm, we don't typically flood the rice fields over the winter to decompose the straw. Instead, we usually have it swathed and chopped into little pieces by a custom operator with a forage chopper. He has been working with us for many years. The forage chopping, followed by one pass with a disk to improve the straw/soil contact, has always been a dependable way to work the straw back into the soil for decomposition purposes, as long as there is sufficient rainfall over the winter to provide the moisture needed to accelerate the decomposition process. The rainfall last winter, however, was well below average; we never had any standing water in the fields.

I noticed much more residual rice straw this spring when we began working the ground. I'm told that the bacteria that break down rice straw can tie up nitrogen for quite a while, making it unavailable to the rice plant, and I think that's what happened.

Of course, another explanation is that I simply didn't use enough fertilizer. The one field we did topdress yielded five sacks above our average, while a similar field without the topdress was right at average. On the other hand, the more nitrogen one uses, the longer the crop takes to mature. If I had used much more fertilizer, I think we would have been harvesting well into November. There is still much rice being harvested in Colusa County as of Nov. 1.

Speaking of time to maturity, a frustrating phenomenon this year was the unusually long time the crop took to be ready for harvest at a reasonable grain moisture content. I hear this was widespread throughout the valley. We did not have the cool summer like we had the past two years, yet we weren't able to begin harvest in earnest until late September. I had expected to begin a week or two earlier than that.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable farmer

It has been an interesting October as far as weather is concerned. First, we had a heat wave with triple-digit temperatures near the coast and upper 60s as the lows. This was followed by a half-inch to a full inch of rain the next week and then another heat wave.

The initial heat wave caused a lot of sunburn on our green bell peppers and the rain that followed increased the amount of rot in the field.

The increase in humidity with the rains followed by warmer nighttime temperatures has also increased the mildew pressure on other crops, especially the lettuces.

Overall, the markets were fairly good in early fall but the warm weather pushed a number of fields to earlier maturity and increased supplies, ending those good prices.

Hopes are that, with the cooler weather and shorter day lengths, there will be an ensuing gap in supplies and prices will rebound in time for our last big push of the season—the Thanksgiving market.

By Valeri Strachan-Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

Fall is finally here and beekeepers are readying their bee hives for winter and next year's almond pollination. The dry conditions through the state and around the country are causing concern for healthy, strong colonies come Feb. 1.

Honey production was down and pollen sources were diminished. The costs are increasing and the political climate has an impact on all of us.

Our company and most beekeepers are doing our best to feed our honeybees quality pollen substitute and sugar to build and maintain strong colonies. Natural pollen is always a plus and to help the beekeeper, farmers (almond growers especially) can apply techniques to increase forage for native pollinators and honeybees.

You can join farmers who are practicing "bee friendly farming." Information can be found on the website Partners for Sustainable Pollination at http://pfspbees.org/contact.htm.




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