From the Fields® - March 22, 2017

By Sean Curtis, Modoc County cattle rancher

Looks like we had another batch of winter that came in a few days ago. That goes hand in hand with calving, which is in full swing right now.

Most of last year's hay that is stored in barns has been sold, although it hasn't all been freighted out yet. It is moving smoothly and evenly and prices aren't as good as they were, but OK.

There is lots of snow up high and the ground is wet. This is something of a unique thing for the high desert. But the water situation for those using storage should be good this year. At this point, it looks like it should be a good grazing year on federal permit forest lands, although that is more a matter of timing of rain rather than a lot of winter moisture. Certainly, the stock water should be good this year.

It is too early for growers to be revving up their tractors, but I think all the moisture may have changed the outlook for crops this year that may have been iffy the last couple years with very little water in storage.

We are in the middle of our massive effort to reduce wild horse herds in the Modoc National Forest. It is becoming a crisis and we have been told to expect significant grazing reductions both this year and next year. These horses don't just compete with livestock for feed, they also compete with pronghorn antelope, deer and elk. Livestock are managed on the range and horses are out there 12 months of the year, doing permanent damage to the range.

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

We had a lot of rain and now the sun is out and we forgot how to work, so we are trying to figure it out.

I've been in the almond business for four years and every year since I've had these almonds we basically worked on them all winter long and we've never stopped working. And now we've gone from sometime in November until just recently when we haven't been able to get into the orchard. Now we are doing a lot of catch-up.

We have another situation where we forgot what rain looks like on the dairy and we went through quite a bit of effort over the winter dealing with rain-related complications. But now it seems that it may all be behind us, and the cows are happy and it is good weather for them.

It is getting a little warm during the day; one day last week, it was 86 degrees. But as long as it cools down at night, the cows do fine. With cows and heat stress it is mostly about nighttime temperature that impacts them.

I am planted in winter wheat right now. We will usually be harvesting that in the first or second week of May and then we plant corn.

The wheat looks great, but it will be interesting to see the yields. It has been my personal observation, and not a scientific fact, that the drier the winter, the better the wheat, the higher the yields we get. I think the wheat doesn't like a lot of standing water and when you irrigate it, you have more control over the water than when it is raining. So, I am actually expecting that our wheat yields will be a little off because of the rain.

By Joe Turkovich, Yolo County diversified grower

Prune bloom is now underway, accompanied by good weather in the Sacramento Valley, so we're hopeful for a nice crop set. But we'll be spraying fungicides for brown rot as rain approaches. The bloom timing is about normal, a nice return to normal from the past few years of early springs.

Fields are drying out nicely, with the exception of those inside levees or low spots. Suddenly, I'm behind on a lot of field work.

I'm hearing the early walnut varieties like Tulare are already pushing. Those guys will be looking to protect new growth from blight.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice farmer

Well, here it is mid-March already and the time for beginning ground work for the 2017 rice crop would normally be not too far off. Yet, as I write this, our fields are still saturated and rain is in the forecast again for this week. This could end up being one of those years where, once we finally do get going, it will have to be at full throttle in order to get the crop in on time. On the other hand, we could get a week of drying north wind that helps us catch up in a hurry. I would welcome that.

It's a bit ironic that, while over the past several years California has had reduced rice acreage due to the drought, this year it appears that we will have reduced acreage due to too much water. The bypasses are still full, and I've heard talk that as many as 50,000 acres won't dry out in time to plant rice. That's about 10 percent of California's normal acreage.

I just returned from attending the International Temperate Rice Conference. Held every four years, this time around it took place in Australia. It was late summer Down Under, and their rice crop is only weeks away from harvest.

A highlight of the trip was being able to attend Australia's Rice Field Day, which turned out to be very similar to California's Rice Field Day held in late August near Biggs. I saw firsthand how similar Australia and California are in terms of producing high-quality, medium-grain rice.

By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County forester

Lately, Mendocino County has had a nice break from all the rainfall we have been getting. My property is approaching 6 feet of rainfall this season.

During the break, we have been able to repair some of the damage from all the rain: road repair, trees down and so on. Due to all the rainfall and ground saturation, there are many places equipment cannot access.

This last week we had temperatures in the high 70s, so pretty soon orchards and vineyards will start to get very busy. Now, orchards and vineyards are pruning and checking their frost-prevention systems.

Cattle are in pretty good shape, considering all the rain. With not too many hard frosts, grass on rangelands is growing and providing good forage for livestock.

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County diversified grower

It has been a winter where everyone has had some challenges with the weather, and I am no different.

During that rainy spell, I had tom turkeys that were significant in size that went to market. It was hard to keep litter dry, so it was tough litter conditions and not my greatest performing flock. So it suffered a little bit there.

Walnuts were 6 to 7 feet under water on four separate occasions. Most everything was still dormant, and it looks like the trees right now are just starting to push the buds a little bit. The sprinkler lines and infrastructure are a tangled-up mess. And the missing of posts, stakes and this and that just creates more work.

We've also had to cover up some of the crowns on the walnuts that were exposed. When you have that much water and a swift current, it raised hell. It could have been much worse. As for tree damage, that will all wait to be seen, but the water did drain out and now we are actually working the ground. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks we will get the rest of the trees grafted over.

I know there were some almond orchards in the area that were lost because they stayed underwater too long, but so far, so good. Better conditions now.

I am getting ready to move my turkey poults out of the breeder house to the grow-out house, so things are getting a little better here. We market a bunch of project lambs in early February that were November born.

In farming, you just need to wait around long enough and you know the change in weather is coming.

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