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From the Fields® - January 6, 2021

By Michael David Fischer, Calaveras County cattle rancher

At the end of November into December, we got a little bit of moisture and it's been warm enough that the grass has germinated in some spots. It's starting to look a little bit better, although we need a lot more rain for runoff and drinking water. We had to feed heavily in September, October and November because of the lack of feed and a lack of rainfall.

The cattle look fine. I've been feeding them a lot of supplement, which is a lot more cost. I probably used at least 25% more hay this year than I have in the past. My cattle calve in the fall, so I'm trying to get the cows bred back and you have to feed them pretty heavy to make sure that they cycle and get bred.

We did have a frost last week, but the grass has grown and it's still pretty good. As long as it stays like this and it doesn't get real cold, we may get a little bit of good germination on the grass that hasn't started. The grass that has started is growing more.

The price right now for the butcher-cow market has been really, really hit hard, but we don't know the explanation. We don't know if it's COVID or just an excuse, but (prices are) not going down in the stores.

We don't know what's been happening with our calf market. It was pretty poor in the spring. The calf market has been OK. We didn't get as much as we should have, but we did OK. On the calf deal, you've just got to go with what you got for your calves. This time of year, we're starting to brand and vaccinate calves and get them all ready for the spring.

By Darrell Cordova, Stanislaus County nut grower

With almonds, our harvest is all done at this point. We're going through and pruning and shredding. In the young trees, we're tying them and removing stakes. Later on, we're going to be moving the sprinklers to center between trees, because right now we have them close to the tree with a small circle of spray. Once we move them out, we'll have a fuller or much larger pattern for the microsprinklers. We've had rains now, so we don't have to do any more irrigation for a while. This year was exceptionally dry and dusty, so it really helped to relieve the stress on the trees.

We put out compost in the older trees and the younger trees through the Healthy Soils Program. We'll be doing 4 tons to the acre in walnuts and 6 tons to the acre in the almonds.

Since we finished with the almonds, we're going to go through the walnuts and prune them. We'll eliminate branches that are crossing over, maybe open up the center of them. Later on, we'll be doing a dormant spray for scales in the almonds, because the population is increasing a little bit and we want to get them before it gets too much, and right now it's manageable. Now we're going to blow, sweep and mulch all the mummy nuts in the almonds.

By Roger Everett, Tulare County citrus farmer and beekeeper

Our early navels have been picked and we have 15 acres of lemons that won't get picked until April. The demand for vitamin C and the resurgence of healthiness again has helped increase demand for citrus, so that's been positive to the bottom line. That is welcome relief to those of us in citrus who got hammered hard early in 2020.

As far as bees go, we're in that winter cycle. We're feeding and monitoring honeybees, trying to keep them happy and healthy before moving into almonds around the 1st of February. Most of us are in contact with our growers, checking with them to see what their needs are, talking tree-bloom sprays and making sure we're all on the same page.

In terms of supplying almonds with bees, which come from California and out-of-state beekeepers, generally, we'll see how it goes because a portion of people will lose hives. There's still going to be a loss in January, so how that works out every year is always the key question until bee colonies are moved in; you don't really know if you've met or exceeded the demand. The goal obviously by the industry is to meet and/or exceed the demand. We've certainly been working our hardest to get to that point, but it's only probably the last few years where we've even come close to making sure we just meet the demand and meet it with good-quality hives that are what the growers are looking for. It's definitely a balancing act.

After the New Year's holiday, most of us get back into our bees again and really start grading to see how the hives are looking before moving into almonds. It's kind of a wait-and-see game as far as the bees and trees go, and see what Mother Nature dishes out.

By Karin Sinclair, Placer County rancher

We're diversified, so we have beef, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits and egg layers. One of our biggest hiccups right now is trying to get our animals in to get processed, because there's such a backlog and not enough processing facilities for us small producers. We have an abundance of people wanting the product, but trying to get (animals) in to get processed is our big problem.

The processing facility that we use is a USDA facility, so that we can sell our products. They're only letting us book for six months out of the year instead of the full year, so I don't even know what we can anticipate after June of 2021.

I did purchase an old dairy ranch in Gardnerville (Nevada). The anticipation was that we were going to put in a meat-processing facility there and use the existing buildings. We thought that it was going to be cut and dry, but there's quite a few people from California that have moved to Nevada and they have the nickname of NIMBY: not in my backyard. They've kind of put a hiccup up here as far as our progress on that. We're looking at other options right now as to other locations and what we can actually do at this dairy site that I purchased. I know that it's definitely a needed facility option, especially for small producers. It's been a lot tougher than I ever anticipated.

By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County farmer

We grow alfalfa, dichondra seed, hybrid onion seed, chardonnay winegrapes, safflower and wheat.

This year, we managed to get all of our onion seed bulbs planted and set early. The dichondra is asleep and dormant right now, so it's in good shape. We've had enough water to germinate wheat. We planted wheat in the fall—as little as possible because the price is not great but better than last year.

One of the things that was kind of interesting is the pandemic may have had some influence on white wine consumption, because our winery went from having too much chardonnay the year before to taking all that we could produce for them this year. In other words, we didn't have to worry about thinning really aggressively or leaving crop on the vine or trying to find another home for it. I was very happy with that.

We planted some new alfalfa acreage because we took some alfalfa acreage out. After you get somewhere between three to five years of production on an alfalfa field, you end up having to take it out because it begins to get thinner and a little bit weedy. We're trying to keep our quality up, so we try to plant a little bit new every year and take a little bit out every year.

In April, when our (alfalfa) season was starting up, dairies were dumping milk. We had our first cutting, and the guy who was going to buy it backed out because he didn't get stimulus money or the check he got wasn't anywhere near as big as he thought it was going to be. I was thinking I might end up with five cuttings in stacks not sold. It didn't work out that way. We actually wound up selling hay and having a pretty decent year, both production and price-wise. I guess that's the silver lining, if you will.




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