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From the Fields® - September 1, 2021

By Madeline Meyer, Yuba County dairy farmer

All the cows that we bred in November are now calving, so we're really busy in the maternity area, and we have a lot of fresh cows, which is good. In the dairy business, you want to have a lot of fresh cows. We didn't have quite as many cows pregnant as we had hoped for because of the summer heat.

We're also drying off a lot of cows right now, so the number of cows we're milking is a little bit down. We're just trying to make ends meet. It costs us $9 a head per day to feed our high cows. Feed costs are just astronomically high and milk prices haven't followed, so we're trying to be creative with the rations to keep feed and other costs down as much as possible.

Cows don't eat as much when it's hot, so we've seen a drop in their dry-matter intake. Milk production correlates with that. It's not the end of the world that production isn't great right now because we're not getting paid a lot for it, so there's not a great reason to make a ton of milk, but production definitely takes a hit in the summertime.

We grow a little bit of our own corn silage. We did some buckwheat this year and we grow rye for our winter forage that we harvested this spring. We've been irrigating the corn and we'll be chopping the silage in September, October.

We've grown corn repetitively for so many years that it's really depleted the soil, so we were looking for a legume to plant. Alfalfa doesn't do well up here, so we were looking for something to put nitrogen back in the soil, so buckwheat was the solution we came up with. We just baled some of that about three weeks ago.

We're only getting 60% of our district water, so we've been using a lot of our manure water combined with our own well water to irrigate the fields. It's much more labor intense because we have to go out more frequently to change the water over. The corn looks good right now, so I think we've been doing a good job of managing that. You do have to watch when you're using the manure water, because it's so nutrient rich. You have to monitor that more and be careful with how much manure water you use because you could kill or stunt the corn.

One of the things that we've been working on for the past year is getting daily milk weight from our cows. We're receiving data from the milking parlor that tells us how much milk each cow produces per milking, so we know how much milk she produced every day. Most dairies in California are on either a quarterly or a monthly testing basis. That's not a lot of data that you're making decisions on, whether you're going to cull the animal or breed her again.

We decided to put in milk meters last fall that tell us how much milk the cow makes every single day, so we can track the production. Having that data is the same as having another herd person on the dairy, because it's another set of eyes.

By Robert Criswell, Santa Clara County Christmas tree farmer

I'm getting all my Christmas tree saws ready. It's over a hundred saws and it's about a 12-step process, takes a lot of time. During the last week, we finished the stump and tip pruning of the trees, which had been started in early July, getting ready to produce well-shaped trees. Otherwise, they're kind of ragged like trees in the forest. I'm getting ready to plan signs, bathrooms, parking lots and stuff like that—basically getting ready to sell trees.

I'm anticipating having a huge crop of trees to sell this year. Last year, I sold about 10% of the trees I normally sell. It was mostly self-serve. Now I have a two-year supply of big, well-shaped trees. I'm getting ready for huge crowds to come out.

There's been an interest already. People have been calling. The most honest thing I can tell them right now: It depends on the pandemic. But if I don't start selling trees on a large scale, they're going to get to the point where they're just too big to harvest as Christmas trees.

I plan on opening extra early. Normally, I don't open until the weekend following Thanksgiving, but others in the neighborhood have been opening up early and I'm just going to open it up on a self-serve basis because I'd be getting ready to sell on a much bigger scale.

By Matt Stayer, Shasta County queen bee breeder

The bees are starting to make their winter bees. What we've been doing the last week—and will be doing in the future weeks to come—is go through and inspect every hive, giving them pollen substitute, feeding them and giving them a mite treatment to keep the varroa mites down for the winter. As we're doing that, we're also checking them for mites, making sure our levels are low, that the mite treatment is working. We're also checking fences for bears, because this time of year the mother bears usually wean off the year-old cubs. That's usually when we have more bear problems, is in the fall. We're making sure our fences are up and tight, so we don't get any damage from them.

We're pretty much doing a three-week round of feeding pollen and grading, figuring out what our numbers will be coming out of winter. We kind of guesstimate so we can start talking with our almond growers to make sure we have the hives that they need to cover their almond pollination next year. We're getting ready for winter—pushing the bees a month before it starts cooling off and getting the bee count up so they can handle hopefully a wet, cold winter.

Right now, the main plant that's blooming and that we're looking for is rabbitbrush, and it blooms in the fall. It's a really good pollen boost and it can be a honey source also if the weather is cooler. The (wildfire) smoke prevents the bees from getting that natural pollen. Natural pollen is better than any supplemental pollen that you can get on the market. Ideally, we try to feed supplemental pollen while there's natural pollen coming in; it just stretches it a little further. But if it's too smoky, the bees can't get that good fall pollen that helps them brood up, store and feed the baby bees through winter.

We've had real smoky days and then we'll have some clear days, so I think the bees are still bringing in pollen. I'm still seeing a lot of pollen in the hives, which I'm happy about. But that could change at any time with these fires. Unfortunately, it's where we live. We've learned to manage it up here. We're in a major drought. We knew this was coming. I had a feeling it was going to happen. It's just unfortunate that it is happening.

By Alysha Stehly, San Diego County winegrape grower

In San Diego County, we're starting to harvest grapes, and this will really start up in the next week or two. It's a little challenging of a growing season. It is always difficult to find enough employees. If somebody says they have enough employees, they are probably lying.

We've had some monsoon storms here with some higher humidity, which is different from our normally perfect weather. With tighter-cluster varieties like grenache, it is more challenging due to the higher heat and humidity and the monsoon storms coming in out of nowhere.

For those of us who only sell grapes, it is harder to sell grapes this year because wineries are a little backed up on inventory due to COVID.

A lot of friends who have restaurants, instead of being open six nights a week, they are down to five or four, or doing just dinner and not lunch. With restaurants having a hard time staffing, they are doing reduced hours, and reduced hours mean less sales for them and less sales for us who sell winegrapes.

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