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From the Fields® - November 4, 2020

By Jeanne McCormack, Solano County sheep rancher

The first thing we're doing right now is lambing. It just started about 10 days ago and it's going well. There's been no rain, which is good for lambing—but we're all terribly worried about the rain situation, because we may have lots of little lambs and no feed for them. Fortunately, this year we were able to plant 100 acres of alfalfa, so we know that we will have feed. We have baled hay and we'll have alfalfa in the field too.

Al (Medvitz, her husband) has been involved with doing a trial of different forages for sheep. One of the seeds is a dryland alfalfa, to see how that would work, because our alfalfa is irrigated and it's right down by the river. It would be so nice if we could plant alfalfa that didn't need to be irrigated, or at least didn't need to be rained on a lot. We are leasing our grain ground for wheat and barley, and that is being planted now.

The market affected sheep producers because of the trade war. We haven't been able to sell our wool for almost two years. The reason for that is the U.S. sells so much wool to China. There wasn't even a market; it wasn't selling anywhere. Wherever the Chinese get their wool normally, probably from Russia or places in Asia, they were able to satisfy their needs there, so they didn't buy any American wool. There is a local U.S. market, but it's usually for specialty products like organic wool for clothes or something like that, but not run-of-the-mill, range-sheep wool like we have. We'll see what happens in the future. The market is there if the politics would calm down.

Recently, we got another offer from a private concern that is making some products, and we hope we will be able to sell at least some of the wool. Otherwise, it's just stored in the barn. During World War II, I think my father stored wool for three or four years because it was hard to sell it, so we can do that too if we have to.

The lamb market is OK because fortunately, we sell to Niman Ranch's specialty market. They still—miraculously with the pandemic—are able to take our lambs. It's just astounding because they sell to a lot to restaurants, and restaurants are closed as we all know. We've sold to them for years and they have very good marketers. We're OK so far; it's just a huge relief. It could have been a disaster.

By Ed Hale, Imperial County farmer

This is our planting month, whether it's vegetables or alfalfa.

We typically start planting our winter vegetables about the middle of September, but I'm not growing any produce this year. We were offered some contracts but couldn't come out on the black side of the ledger, so we said, "No, thank you." Things are a little sketchy right now and we've been cutting back acreage, just trying to tuck in our shell, weather the storm and wait until things get a little better. Like most farmers, we're opportunistic in what we grow, and if we see something that looks like it's profitable, we grow that. Right now, this is not a great market for those of us who are opportunistic or looking for something profitable.

We typically have market onions, but this year we're not growing any. That market has been in the can for a couple of years. What really exacerbated that is a couple of years ago they had a big snow event up in the Pacific Northwest, and a lot of the sheds that store onions were badly torn up by the snow load. All of those guys cashed in their insurance policies and built a much bigger, better storage facility. We have such capacity now in the Pacific Northwest that they can provide onions to the market for about 11 months out of the year. Because of the science that they've put into storage, they can store those onions for an awful long time, and they've just taken away the market.

We grow quite a bit of seed crops, and we are down in that too. That's because there's less contracts around for vegetable seed. We're growing some sunflowers and canola for variety trials. We aren't doing the volume that we were last year because the companies that grow those are not spending the money on (research and development) like they were two years ago. They keep trying to come up with better varieties, but they do that with their profits, and when we're not making profits, they cut back and don't put as much back into (research and development).

We planted (the seed crops) in early October. They're coming up now. They are looking good. When they get to maturity, the companies we're growing them for will come in and rate them for the attributes that they're looking for. They will look at the stands, they will look at how many heads each sunflower puts on and the amount of oil it produces. Those (seeds) would not be grown here. Most of those would be grown back in the Midwest for vegetable oil.

I'm planting more alfalfa this year. We started planting alfalfa the 15th of October, and we're watering new stands. Down in this area, (a new alfalfa planting) usually goes for four years, and we're seeing more alfalfa go in. Everybody's hoping that there'll be a decent price as the dairymen start making a little money. The forages don't have the risk, and even when prices are lower, you're able to weather the storm a little better. When produce is bad, it's really bad.

This time of year, we look at the stands, and if they're nice and thick and everything's great, we continue to cut. Most guys in the Imperial Valley average 10 to 11 cuttings a year. We're moving towards a November cutting. It'll be one of our last cuttings this year. Some got beat up by the heat this summer and need a little help, so we (planted) more seed and sprayed herbicide to get rid of some summer grasses. We've got them all spiffed back up, watered and ready to go into this next season. Now, our reseed is coming up. It's about an inch tall.

By this time of year, you've got all these beautiful new crops coming up. It's a pretty time to go drive around the valley, because there's pretty vegetables, new hay stands and new sugar-beet stands coming up everywhere. The weather has finally cooled off, so you can enjoy it.

By Ron Macedo , Stanislaus County pumpkin grower

This year was actually a strong year for pumpkin sales here at the farm. It was good that people were staying local, so they bought a lot of pumpkins to decorate their places. The corn maze also did really well, because people were looking for activities that were outside, so we were fortunate in that respect; that worked out very well.

Related to COVID, we encouraged people to practice social distancing and to wear masks. It is outside, so not everybody wore masks, but masks were encouraged. We also set up cleaning stations with hand sanitizer, so we tried to do all those kinds of things, so we checked all of the boxes.

School tours at the pumpkin patch were canceled, so no field trips, no movies under the stars and no indoor activities such as the scary shed. We just stuck to strictly selling pumpkins and the corn maze.

We lump sales from the corn maze and the pumpkins together, but I think we did very well this year in terms of sales. We were up in sales for the corn maze, and I think pumpkin sales this season were about the same as last season.

Now, we are switching gears and preparing for Christmas tree sales and our ice-skating rink. This is our eighth year selling Christmas trees, so we're looking forward to strong sales for the trees, because people are staying home and focusing on making it their own by decorating their homes.

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