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From the Fields® - July 7, 2021

By David Richter, Sutter County farmer

Our water allocation allowed us to raise 850 acres of rice, which is about the same as we raised last year. We have a field or two that isn't perfect, but the stands look pretty good.

The heat really did a number on my lima beans. I just don't have the stands. When it gets so hot, lots of things start going awry, especially when they're coming out of the ground.

Our sunflowers look good. Everything came up. We had water and we pre-irrigated everything. We've had a lot of hot days and we always worry about pollination when it gets real hot.

On processing tomatoes, we used 100% transplants, just because seeds aren't plentiful. Transplanting season was interesting. We had to stop several times because of the heat and the wind.

We also grow corn for grain. It's for human consumption, and it's white corn. We're growing less corn this year because we've gone up in tomatoes lately and we've gone up on rice. We started cutting back on corn because it was such a low price and we have reduced the size of our farm just because we're getting older.

I had a little wheat this year and we're harvesting it right now. Wheat yields have been down because of the drought. I was able to irrigate it. We're having to spray for thrips, the vector for spotted wilt. We have detected it in some plants, and we're working with farm advisors. It hasn't been widespread, but it's caused us to spray for thrips.

By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County rancher

Things are going fairly well considering the drought, which is on everybody's mind. It's going to be a pretty tough year dealing with it, but we're trying to work through it. We're destocking. We're just running less cattle. The ranges are pretty dry, so we're hauling water, trying to utilize them as long as we can through the summer. In the meantime, the irrigated pastures are holding up well, but we're trying to stock them pretty lightly or destock them by midsummer, so that we can grow as much feed for the cattle coming off the range, because we assume they will come off early. We're bringing in almost no outside pastured cattle, which has been a significant part of our business.

You can feel the impacts of the drought as the summer begins. It's hotter and it's drier. I haven't seen our soil moisture this low. The plan is to survive, not put our head in the sand and hope for the best, but try to make some strategic moves, which is what we've been doing since early spring. Everything is in a hang-on mode. We don't want to overreact, but we don't want to be in a position of not acting soon enough, either.

By Mike Jani, Mendocino County forester

As we've seen many times in our business, you get wild fluctuations in demand and prices. What goes up must come down. That's exactly what we've got going on throughout the entire lumber business, not just the redwood business. It's a factor of having the coronavirus put the fear of God in all of us and businesses. Everybody tried to make adjustments with the idea that there was going to be less demand. Lo and behold, in the midst of the pandemic, there was more demand for lumber than many of us have ever seen before. Our mills and the inventories have just been wildly fluctuating. Prices ran up way high and now prices are starting to come down almost as fast as mills gather materials and up their production and up their facilities. It's just been a wild and crazy ride.

Our industry tends to go through these cycles periodically. Having experienced that a couple of times in my career—more than I like—you just make adjustments. The people that could make them quicker usually come out OK. Sometimes there's fallout. The American consumer has also been seeing spiked lumber prices, and people are finally pushing back a little bit and not paying the price, so we're seeing demand fall off a little bit. But I expect it to even out.

From strictly the Mendocino County or North Coast perspective, there's a lot of fire salvage material moving around. Mills are trying to take in what they can while at the same time watching these lumber markets. There's tentative buying going on. In the redwood area, you've got material mainly from the big Santa Cruz fire that is starting to reach mills up in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The mill in Santa Cruz cannot absorb all of the burn salvage that there is down here. There's only one sawmill south of San Francisco—the Big Creek mill in Santa Cruz County. It just doesn't have the capacity to absorb all of the material that landowners are trying to remove from their properties right now. That's going to be an ongoing issue for at least another year.

I think the folks at Big Creek, just like the rest of us, are trying to make decisions in a wildly fluctuating, broader market. I haven't talked to them in quite a while, so I don't know if they're putting on two shifts, increasing the output of their mill or if they're just trying to hold steady with what they normally do down here. I live in Santa Cruz but work for Mendocino Redwood Co. and Humboldt Redwood Co., so I get the double whammy in terms of perspective.

Jackson State Forest in Mendocino County is the largest of all the state demonstration forests. They've got another controversial sale with people blocking gates. There's quite a bit of turmoil right now surrounding that. I don't know if these people are just going to be activist-challengers out in the woods or what will come of this whole controversial timber sale. If these people that are challenging the state with on-the-ground actions have any success in stopping the timber sales of the forest, that will have a significant impact on lumber supply in the Mendocino-Sonoma area. It has upset some of the plans of the loggers that were contracted to do these sales. Their log flow has been interrupted and that's a direct pocketbook hit for them.

By John Perry, Sacramento County farmer

We're harvesting our wheat. We're probably about 80% completed. The wheat was like everything else: It was 1977 all over again, shortage of water. We were irrigating our winter wheat in February and March. We irrigated once, probably should have irrigated it a second time. We just didn't get the rains we needed, so it required the irrigation. As far as the yields, on grounds that had irrigated crops the prior year, we probably did average or a little below average. On ground that didn't have irrigated crops the prior year, we're definitely below average on the yields. The quality is good. The bushel weight is good, and the protein is good. The only negative side is the yields are down.

Typically in our area, we don't irrigate safflower at all, but this year, because of the lack of rain, we pre-irrigated all our safflower grounds. It looks good. We're just a little later than we normally would be because we pre-irrigated. Hopefully, we don't get 108-degree temperatures while it's pollinating. We look to harvest our safflower probably the end of August, first week of September.

The oats we cut for feed, forage. The oats are not irrigated, and our crop is maybe a third of normal because without the winter rains, we just didn't have the growth on the oats.

On the rice, our timing is pretty well where we want to be. The only thing we dealt with there as far as the planting time is we had tremendous north winds, which we had to work around. Weed control looks good. We'll probably be harvesting the middle of October. The water district curtailed 25% of the water, so we had to cut back our rice acreage 25%, but we're right on schedule and it looks pretty good. Like other commodities, the price of rice has come up.

It was a tough year. It all revolved around the shortage of water. The only offsetting benefit is that commodity prices are up, so the price we're getting for the commodity is substantially better than last year.

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