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From the Fields® - January 19, 2022

By Richard Bianchi, San Benito County vegetable grower

The recent rains have been a godsend. We had a lot of dry ground that needed plenty of moisture. We've got some nice days. Unfortunately, it looks like we've got another 10 days of clear weather, but hopefully after that breaks, we'll get back into another wet period. Over the last three or four weeks, we had anywhere from 4 to 6 inches of rain, depending on where you're at. It was a good start to our winter season. Nevertheless, we're starting romaine, head lettuce, the iceberg business, broccoli, cauliflower. Everybody's slowly starting to move, and it will just pick up from here. Everybody's hoping for better markets with everything.

A vast majority of our workers are vaccinated. Our local Farm Bureaus have made a very, very concerted effort to get out there and make sure our workforce has been vaccinated. But I don't know if I've ever had a winter where we've talked about labor so much. It's been more questions. We're talking about working ranches eight hours a day, and it's almost unheard of. Guys are struggling with trying to figure out what that looks like. There's not enough labor as it is. Now we just took five hours a week out of your menu that you can use.

Markets haven't been great. It's not the best to go and spend an extra time and a half. That's a tough pill to swallow. It's been a tumultuous winter season, because we're trying to figure out what this looks like. We can't just farm five days a week. You need to be out there six days a week. You can't just try and shoehorn everything into an eight-hour day.

Things are looking up when it comes to the rain and the weather, but the regulatory aspect is taking the fun out of it, especially this year. We've got the Ag Order and all the recommendations that are coming down with that. Then you've got (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act). Those all come with dollars per acre.

By Andrèe Soares, Merced County sheep and goat rancher

We're wrapping up our lambing season. Most all our ewes have given birth to lambs, and we have the animals on alfalfa around the valley. Because of the rains, we've been able to move some of them up into the foothills because we had some good feed growth up there.

Most of our lambing took place outside of the weather windows, so we were fortunate we didn't have a whole lot of lamb loss due to weather. We had a 30% twin percentage, so our production is up.

Our goats are going to begin kidding in the next week or so. They kid just after our lambing ends. We anticipate a good kidding season. We hope to skirt any weather events like we were able to do with our lambing, but we are anxious to have more rain, too.

The soil has been holding the moisture. We had enough and at a rate at which the soil has been able to hold it and promote the push of the new forage. We have more feed earlier this year than we did last year because of the timing and quantity of the precipitation.

This is the time of year when we start shaping up our grazing schedule for targeted grazing and fire fuel prevention. We have found that people are as anxious as ever to make sure they're included on the schedule. Sometimes it's the dry years that make people afraid, and now years like this, because it's been a wetter year, they're seeing a lot more forage come up earlier, so they're getting nervous and making plans in that regard.

Our grazing schedules are shaping up, and we expect to have a very busy grazing season again this year. Our grazing season for fire prevention is going to start around late March, early April. But we will be doing some vineyard grazing beginning in January. That is typically done to improve the soil. Vineyards tend to like to have the grazing of their cover crops done before bud break.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County almond and prune grower

We're grateful for the rain we've received so far, but there's good and bad that comes with it. The first storm in late October, we had 3 1/2 inches of rain and about 50-mph winds. Some 3-year-old prune orchards we had got hit very hard by blow-overs. The trees were pretty tall and full size, and we had yet to prune or defoliate them. That was quite an expensive process to try to save the trees. We bought truckloads of lumber, of tree props, to get the trees standing back up and hold them up through the summer. Every tree takes two or three props to hold it up. It was about 105 acres worth of trees, and close to 70% of the trees went down to some degree.

The (props) will be in the orchard until harvest. I'll probably move them just before harvest so we can get machinery in there. We are pruning those trees a little bit heavier, removing more of the wood out of the trees to lighten the tops of them. We're losing some fruiting wood there, but we're sacrificing some yield to save the trees.

That was a negative, but the rainfalls were what we needed. Because of the drought and not feeling confident we're going to have good surface-water supplies next year, we accelerated our tree-pull program on our prunes and took out more than double the acres that we planned on pulling out this last fall. We'll plant new trees next winter. Hopefully, things will turn around and the trees will start coming back into production after we replant them.

Besides that, normal winter things have been going on: strip spraying; we're got a crew out here pruning the trees right now; we're trying to go through some of the equipment maintenance that we do during the offseason. I've got enough work to keep everybody busy right now.

By Debbie Chamberlain, Riverside County mango and vegetable farmer

We're just beginning our season of squash, basil, cilantro and tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of our main crops. We grow different varieties—cherry, Roma and beefsteak—and roughly 102 acres.

The crop is looking good. The seed for one of the main beefsteak tomatoes we specialized in—Shady Lady—was not available. We had been warned over the last five years that that variety was going to be terminated. It came out of the Netherlands. That was a big change for us, because we've been growing that variety for over 20 years for the farmers market.

The (seed) people gave us a substitute to try, so we're trying that, and we're trying about five other varieties of big beefsteak (varieties) to fill in that slot. Shady Lady was two-thirds of our crop. We had some leftover seed. We're down to maybe one-eighth of an acre; we used to do at least 2 acres. So we had a big hole in our product line. We've added more cherry tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cilantro and basil to try to fill in.

Mango season was very good. Production was one of our highest. The mango varieties tend to have alternate-bearing years, and we had our heavier year. We also sell mango nursery trees direct to consumers. That was very good because our customers, knowing the varieties, having tasted them at the farmers market, have a lot of confidence in buying from the same grower that's producing the tree. We're expanding our nursery tree business to go along with the mango fruit itself.

We'll continue to increase our mango (business) as long as the demand keeps growing as it has. All our mango varieties have their little different windows of when they're harvested, so it expands the overall season for us and for the customers. They're liking that.

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