From the Fields® - May 6, 2020

By Joe Colace, Imperial County farmer

COVID-19 has had a moderate effect here in the Imperial Valley. One of our sweet corn crews had to be quarantined due to a positive test. Even with the concerns over the virus, we still have an adequate supply of labor.

The weather had been cool and damp from late January through late March, which has resulted in later than normal maturing of our melons. Temperatures have now risen above average by 5-8 degrees, resulting in nice quality on the sweet corn.

By Peter Culhane, Los Angeles County farmer

This growing season, which is now in its early stages, is so far going quite smoothly. Plenty of rainfall, which is currently above our average here in Los Angeles County, is always welcome during this time of the growing year. My irrigation is still turned to the off position and will remain as such for the next 60-plus days or so.

My great crew put down nitrogen throughout the grove before the rainy season began and we caught it in perfect timing. We are now doing minor tree trimming and removing all the suckers from the trunks of each tree.

With my three different varieties of olive trees—Mission, Manzanilla and Picholine—we expect another growing season to bring us the delicious extra virgin olive oil because of the marvelous and distinctive blend of the three varieties.

My grove is all well maintained by my years-long team that now includes my son, Harris, who is off this semester from college due to the COVID-19 virus that closed his university for the semester in Nashville. It is great to have him home again safe with Adrienne and me.

We actively practice social positioning even as we work in my olive grove, which consists of several acres of olive trees.

So now the waiting period begins as the flowery buds appear on the trees.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County farmer

It is April 28 and up country there is a flurry of activity as folks set about getting the spring crops seeded and planted. On the one hand, all this activity would seem to belie that there is a pandemic going on.

I am given to understand that in our six-county area—Sutter, Yuba, Butte, Colusa, Tehama and Glenn—there are but 69 cases of COVID-19 among the population of roundly 500,000. While the numbers may be relatively low, the effects are widespread. At this very busy time of year, we are accustomed to having easy access to restaurants, food and personal items—all changed. Even the farm supply shelves don't look the same. Speaking for myself, I'll try not to take all that abundance for granted, as well as the freedom to move about as free and unfettered as in the past.

This year, our annual worries about our water supplies in the Colusa Basin began in earnest around the first of February. Water rights holders in the Colusa Basin depend upon return flows into the Colusa Basin Drain to provide water for irrigation.

While Shasta is still holding lots of water, it is the annual projected inflow that governs the Sacramento River Settlement Contractors' supplies for the year. When the contractors' supplies are reduced by a Shasta Critical determination, as they have been for 2020 (from 100% to 75%), they must implement strict conservation practices that predictably reduces drainage that returns to the Colusa Basin.

As such, as of today, barring any significant rainfall events in the Shasta watershed, it is likely that thousands of acres of rice and other annual crops will be fallowed.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County farmer

Spring has arrived and most growers are doing a lot of hurry up and wait, as Mother Nature decides what the weather is going to do. Some of the precipitation we had hoped for in January finally arrived a few weeks ago.

While we hope these storms add to the snowpack and water supply for this summer, they haven't amounted to enough moisture locally to really benefit any of our crops. They have, however, made it challenging to get into a steady routine doing work in the fields. In between rainshowers and irrigation, we have been busy mowing and spraying weeds, applying fertilizer and doing routine field maintenance in most of our orchards.

The almond crop has potential for a good yield, but there is still a long time between now and August. The apricot crop looks to be light this year, similar to 2018, which I think is due to a large crop in 2019 and a lack of good chilling weather this winter. The walnuts are just starting to break out of dormancy, so we will see how they look in the coming month. Processing tomatoes are beginning to get transplanted in the area.

COVID-19 has had an impact on how we all interact with our employees. Everyone has been good about "social distancing" and frequent hand washing. We are concerned about having adequate and healthy labor when apricot harvest begins in June, if we as a country still haven't gotten a good handle on this pandemic.

By Pam Giacomini, Shasta County beef producer

Foremost in our minds, we are hopeful everyone is staying safe and still able to get their work done.

We sold our Hat Creek Grown meat business to Stemple Creek Ranch in Tomales in December: a great young couple that share the same ethics as us in their land, watershed and cattle management. Now, we raise and fatten cattle for Stemple Creek pretty much exclusively, while they handle all of the processing, marketing and order fulfillment of the beef products.

For market impacts to our business from COVID, we have that sector of our business that is fairly insulated from the current situation, as Stemple Creek markets have grown exponentially. It recently shifted from restaurant trade to mainly direct to consumers, and that demand is growing.

On other sectors of the market that we also rely upon, it's not a great picture. In fact, it is pretty scary. Every ranch operation has a group of cull cows to sell, ones that don't calve out successfully for one reason or another. On those, the market is down considerably. Last year, cull prices were at about 70 cents a pound; now, they are 40 cents a pound. That is a pretty big hit to the income side.

Then, we get even more worried about overall income as we watch the futures market. As a spring calving operation, we sell weaner calves in the fall and that is the bulk of our income for the entire year. It is highly volatile and has been ranging from 50 cents to $1.50 under what the market has been the past couple of years.

When you look at the big picture, with consumer demand up and live cattle prices down, you really wonder if there is some type of manipulation in the marketplace, do the cash formulas need to be adjusted or is it just the closure of processing facilities owned by the big four packers and a few others that are affecting the market for live cattle?

We are changing the way we work to do everything in smaller groups of cattle or smaller jobs. That way, we can do each job without hiring more day help or additional employees. That means that my husband, myself and our hired man do all of the jobs we can accomplish together, without bringing in additional help, which we would normally do this time of year. In the past, we've added one or more as summer help. When you combine the impacts of COVID-19 and the passage of AB 5, our ability to hire "day help" really has become limited.

This harkens to be a challenging year. Looks to be we will be managing around drought, and the impacts of COVID 19.




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