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From the Fields® - January 5, 2022

By Neal Carstensen, Sonoma County organic hay farmer

This fall coming out of the drought, that first rain was about 10 inches over in Sonoma and Marin counties. We do some of our planting on our heavier grounds early in the fall. (The rain) shut down the fall planting for about a month. When we returned to the still-muddy fields, we were able to get some of the work done. Because I'm in the marsh area, we also plant in February, March. Now we just wait for the weather break. We come from two years of drought to extreme water. A farmer's life, huh?

This is a lot of water, but it's needed water. I'll just take an extended vacation. I don't think the state of California could survive one more year without a good rain.

We start doing equipment repairs and catching up on the things that didn't get done during the summer months, including relaxing. There is a shortage of parts and equipment out there. If a guy really needs to go buy something, he's going to pay a lot for it, if he can find it.

I do know that parts are hung up, in some cases, a long time. I do wastewater treatment plants, and we were waiting for parts for one of our manure pumps, and we've been waiting for three months now to get a part. I know of dairies that have also been on hold for parts for their manure pumps for months and months and months.

Equipment dealers are also saying they can't get inventory of tractors and different things. You better have spare equipment around right now, because you're going to need it. We had to bring in some old equipment out of the boneyard to finish our season because we couldn't get the parts to repair the newer one, so we had to bring out the older one again.

By Kevin Herman, Madera, Merced and Fresno counties fruit and nut farmer

We're pruning. We've pretty much finished our pre-emergent herbicides for weeds. We're mulching up the pruning clippings, putting on soil amendments. With (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act), we're taking about 10% of our "white-area" land and pulling (trees) out in anticipation that we're going to have to pump less water in the future. I want to be able to take the water off of the trees we pulled out and give more to the remaining trees so that hopefully my crops have good yields and good size.

We're pulling out some older almond trees and some fig trees. That land is going to sit fallow forever and ever. The state is telling me how much water I can pump, and there is no consideration for the recent storms we had. I'm pulling out the lowest-yielding parts of my ranches and leaving the most productive ones. We're trying to do more with less.

It's unfortunate because I'm going to have fewer jobs, because I'm going to be farming fewer acres. I'm going to be buying less diesel fuel. I'll be buying less fertilizer. The county will receive less property tax revenue because what I pull out is not as valuable as open land as it is as an orchard. There's a lot of fallout that's going to come from this.

The other thing we're struggling with is, as of the first of the year, the minimum wage went up. It used to be you could work 45 hours before you had to pay overtime. Now it's going to be down to 40. We're doing less and less hand pruning and more and more mechanical just because (labor) is a lot more expensive.

By Jeremy Jensen, Los Angeles County beekeeper

Beekeepers have all been biting their fingernails waiting for rain. Rain brings good pollen and lots of nectar. Bees have been hit hard with poor nutrition this year. It's really hard for us to supplement the nutrition that's provided by natural pollen and natural nectar, so we're optimistic about the rain for the coming year, for the honey flow it will bring and for the health of the bees. If we don't have rain, the flowers will bloom, but there's nothing for the bees to eat, and the bee population struggles. If we get rain, we might actually be able to make a good honey crop. It's been a long time since beekeepers in California have made a substantial honey crop. It's probably been four years now.

Beekeepers are moving in from all over the country right now to California to pollinate the almond crop in February. The migration has begun. Starting at the end of December, semis start rolling over our borders into California. As you drive up and down the Central Valley, you'll see thousands of hives in staging locations ready to pollinate.

We have 500 beehives that we will place in the almonds. We're making sure that the hives are of a strength that's adequate for the farmer. We are culling hives that aren't going to make the cut and making sure our boxes are all ready to go.

Our cost for everything is going up. One of our main channels for distributing our honey is farmers markets. The price of glass jars has gone up exponentially. I've got orders for jars three months out, and they're telling me, "Sorry, they're on a ship." We've tried to anticipate our next six months of need. The supply chain has been one of our struggles.

By Wayne Bishop, Yuba County farmer and agritourism operator

We have a small walnut orchard, and we need to get in there and prune and take a few dead trees out. The rain is wonderful. There's no doubt we needed that. All the farmers in the state needed the rain, so we're thrilled with that and the snow that's coming in the mountains. It does slow us in the pruning, but our orchard is small enough; we'll have plenty of sunny days to get it done. On the rainy days, we'll work on our equipment maintenance. We've got lots of that to do in the shop.

Farming-wise, that's all we have coming in the next month or so. We have a forage crop that's planted. Hopefully, it got off to a little bit of a start before the rain and the cold came. We have a dairy about 5 miles from us that buys that from us, so they'll come in and chop it for silage. Our forage crop will come off about the second week of May, and then we will start our ground prep for pumpkins. We plant wheat where the pumpkins just were, and then we put a cover crop mix on the ground that will be in pumpkins this year.

We'll plant about 90 acres of pumpkins. We'll plant from about June 10 until the end of June. We stagger the plantings out because the harvest is not all at once. All the different varieties have different maturities also. We like to have a few pumpkins ready by mid-September. The bulk of them get ready in the first two weeks in October.

On the agritourism side, it was a good year. The big October storm hurt us a little bit. It came on a weekend and towards the end. That should have been real busy for us, so it cost us some visitors, but it was worth it to get the rain.

It's going to be our 50th season this year. We definitely want to celebrate it somehow, but we haven't come up with an exact way to do that yet. At this point, we don't expect rapid growth. Just slow, steady growth is good, and that's what we expect to see.

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