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From the Fields® - August 4, 2021

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County farmer

We've had an unusual start to summer. Typically, May and June are hot and dry, and this season we had heat and lots of humidity. Our monsoon season usually comes during the later part of July, August and September, and this year our monsoon weather arrived May 1.

The cotton market offered a short window of opportunity to sell cotton at over 80 cents, which is great. However, because we had such hot, humid weather in May and June, which is typically when we set the bottom of our cotton crop, it was so humid and hot that lots of fruit got aborted. So I'm holding back on our marketing. I think our valley average is going to be 30% below historical levels now because of hot, humid weather in May and June, which we typically don't have. We've got nighttime low temperatures above 85 degrees. It triggers a response in the plant that starts to automatically abort fruit, and that bottom set on a cotton crop is really the foundation of our total production.

In alfalfa, it means your yields go from one and a quarter tons per acre down to half a ton to three-quarters of a ton per acre. We're in our fifth cutting of alfalfa and the alfalfa market has been holding relatively strong.

We do have strong water rights in our valley to Colorado River water. We're the first in line to receive Colorado River water in the state of California. We have chosen to help the crisis situation on the Colorado River, voluntarily fallowing 20% to 28% of the valley, so that is saved water that will go to Lake Mead to try to prop up those lake levels. Lake Mead in particular is in a state of crisis right now. The important message is that farmers have voluntarily decided to fallow some ground to create surplus water that benefits the entire system.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

I'm currently logging on our tree farm, and I'm working in an area where I need to improve what is called a fire-control ridge. I've put a lot of energy into upgrading all of my ridges that potentially could be used if there's a fire. I think a lot of people are doing that.

It's just really dry, like it is for everybody, so it's dusty. We've just had to be extra careful to make sure we don't have any ignitions. I'm also hoping that we don't get any dry lightning that will start fires like we had last year. One of the problems with that was all those big fires put all kinds of burnt timber on the log market, and that kept the log market depressed, because there was an oversupply of burned logs. The sawmills were inundated with way more logs than they could mill, so the price for logs was depressed as a result of that. I'm just hoping we can get through this year without any lightning fires.

I'm focusing right now in an area that's mostly redwood. The price of redwood is OK, but there is some doug fir that goes with it, and I'm not getting very much for that doug fir, because people just don't want it. Lumber prices are still pretty good, even though there've been adjustments back down to the pre-COVID lumber prices that existed. The log market doesn't reflect that. There's just an oversupply of logs. The mills don't need to go out of their way to buy logs because there's way more than they can handle. There is demand for lumber, but there is no extra demand for logs. It's the log market that is depressed because there's an oversupply of logs from the fires. Most of it is probably going to go to waste.

I just hope we can go through this year without more fires from lightning like we had last year and have all these ignitions all at once. If we have the same thing happen again, we're going to have an oversupply of burnt timber on the market. Yes, there's going to be fires and they're going to be human caused and they're going to be big. We had a million acres on Mendocino National Forest and surrounding areas that burned last year here in Mendocino County and neighboring counties. We had a huge fire in Sonoma County and they're still logging that right now. Those logs are going into the mills here, and the mills can't take any more of that doug fir; they're just loaded up with it.

By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher

The price of hay is up. What we normally would pay is probably $90 to $110 in hay; it will be $180 a ton this year. I bought it early, and the same oat hay, same quality is now up to $260, so that's considerably more than what we normally pay for our hay.

The price of water continues to rise. Our usage has gone up this year. The month of June on our small farm, it cost $900, $1,000 for water on 18 acres. It is really expensive this year. It's expensive because the ground has taken more water.

Our pasture is in decent shape. It's dead pasture, dry land, but we've got pasture. We have irrigated pasture as well, so it's in decent shape that way. It's just our expense to raise the grass is a lot more than it's been in the past.

We did reduce our herd to about half its size, but it was more due to loss of pasture than the drought. We lost a lease. That's just the way things go.

I don't follow the market that closely. When I need to sell, I sell. We sell purebred, and those prices have not been affected a great deal. Naturally, people have cut down (on cattle purchases), so (sales of purebred) will slow down. We can weather that; we're not large scale.

The beef industry in the long run looks bright. Prices are coming up a little bit. If you listen to all the reports, they say it's going to be a brighter future. We'll see.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

Much of the rice in the Sacramento Valley is now in the heading stage, right on schedule. In a few weeks, growers will begin closely monitoring their fields in order to decide when to drain them. Once drained, a field typically takes about three weeks to dry out enough for harvest equipment to be able to move in without getting stuck in the mud. Ideally, if a grower has timed it right, the grain has dried down to a proper moisture content right about the same time as the field is ready to support the harvest equipment.

Although we unfortunately had no rain in March or April, it did make it easy to get in the fields and get them all planted earlier than usual. I was all done by early May. I remember a few wet years when we didn't even start field work until then. Getting the crop in early was nice, but most memorable for me this spring was all the wind we had during and after planting, which made good stand establishment quite a challenge. We did get through it, however, and I think all the rice in my area looks pretty good. I'm optimistic that yields will be above average, but I say that almost every year, and thus, I'm wrong half the time.

The general consensus is that there are about 400,000 acres of rice in California this year, which is down quite a bit from the 515,000 acres we had last year—all due to the drought, of course. I see many rice fields in my water district that are sitting fallow right now, because those growers elected to transfer the water to growers of other crops, mostly tree crops. With the reduction of rice acres in 2021, growers are expecting a good price for this year's rice harvest due to the diminished supply that is expected.

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