From the Fields®

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County dairy farmer

The end of 2018 arrived with us finding a new home for our milk with another company. The milk market is still not strong, but the price has stabilized for the most part. The new federal order is very confusing, and we as producers and processors are working and learning together.

On the organic dairy side for the year to come, we hope for better enforcement. I am second vice president of Western Organic Dairy Producers, and we have a lot in store to work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and keep up with our efforts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on enforcement. I am starting my term as first vice for Sonoma County Farm Bureau, so 2019 will be a busy and exciting year in my leadership roles.

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

All of our rice fields have been flooded for the winter to get rid of the rice straw, and we are starting to see more and more waterfowl moving through the area now that winter storms have arrived in Northern California. So, we have a lot of birds that are now sitting on all of our rice fields—ducks, geese, swans and a lot of shorebirds as well.

We are just maintaining our winter-flooded fields and now getting into planning for spring planting, which entails prepping the fields, working on our budgets, getting our seed and chemicals in place. We are working on timing for planting and what we need to get going. There is a lot of office work right now.

We will be draining all of our fields at the end of February or first part of March. Depending on what Mother Nature brings us in March, we could be working our fields by late March in hopes of planting our first fields by mid-April. We will likely plant through mid-May for rice. That is the window we like to target. It all depends on what happens between now and then.

The good thing is that we are starting to see more storms coming in, which will bring snow to the Sierra as well and hopefully provide us with the necessary snowpack that we need to get a 100 percent water allocation come this spring.

Last year was a good year for rice. We had a good quality crop and our yields were right on par with where we thought we should be.

Our intention at this point is that we will be planting all of our rice fields this year. We have a rice dryer and milling operation that we need to continue to get rice into, so our intentions are to plant all of our rice acres.

China has finally approved U.S. rice imports, so it remains to see what that means at the end of the day. We will just be watching that to see what happens.

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County diversified grower

After record rainfall in December and January, I heard reports that we got 600 percent of average and I think we got a total of 4 inches. That's a lot of rain for us. We are starting to dry out and get back in the fields. We are getting ready to plant all our spring crops, our cantaloupes and sweet corn and field corn. In fact, we just started planting our field corn this week.

The winter produce deal was underplanted this year and despite the food safety scare that we had earlier, it has been a relatively good run for our produce industry. So that always helps everybody else in the valley because if our produce guys make money, they don't plant as much hay. So, we have less hay to sell and the prices go up. The produce guys had a rough two years, but this past year was fairly successful.

Hay prices are extremely high for this time of year. Top-quality hay is in very short supply and is demanding a premium price; the lower-quality, dry-cow hay is more readily available and there is quite a difference in price between top hay and lower-quality hay. Our hay price is determined by our export market, not the local dairy market like it used to be 20 years ago. Our export market is fairly strong, so that is keeping our hay prices fairly high.

We had a good year last year. Our spring crops are getting planted; the hay market looks good for the next five or six months and people are optimistic in the Imperial Valley.

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

Beekeepers welcomed the robust storms thus far this season, but it's now time to place bees in the almond orchards.

Nationally, forage for beehives is in very short supply. With 90 million acres of corn and 90 million acres of soybeans, honeybees find fewer blossoms on which to forage. The states of North and South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota receive 1.4 million hives that will soon be in California.

With 1.3 million acres of bearing almonds, the supply of strong hives almost meets the demand for strong bees. Beekeepers are investing millions of dollars in new climate-controlled buildings. These buildings provide safe, secure places for large numbers of hives. The science behind the building promises more bees will be ready for spring after a few months in storage.

An attachment to the recently passed farm bill includes an expansion of the Farm Stored Facility Loan Program. The program now allows USDA to loan funds to operators constructing temporary refrigerated storage facilities for beehives.

Beekeepers are still responsible to control varroa destructor prior to winter, whether indoors or outdoors. Clean hives going into winter usually mean good bees in the spring.

Another encouraging development is a collaboration between CDFA, the almond industry and beekeepers. With an October 2018 pre-inspection performed on 44,000 hives in North Dakota prior to shipping, those 44,000 hives will smoothly transition the inspection stations. CDFA Secretary Ross was instrumental in the development of this pilot program. The almond industry and the beekeeping industry hope to implement the pilot program into policy.

Issue Date: January 23, 2019
By Ryan Rice, Humboldt County forester

As farmers, ranchers and foresters, our job is to produce the best crop we can with the conditions that nature presents. In agriculture, so much of our success can be determined by the weather.

In Humboldt County, we have a unique coastal zone weather pattern that supports our agricultural community. The extreme hot temperature usually ranges around 64 degrees in August, with our coldest days coming in December with an average low of 41 degrees. Our average annual rainfall is over 40 inches, which grows trees, crops and green grass to support our local agriculture.

However, the excessive rain can also make it difficult to do anything from Dec. 1 through April 1 on a normal year.

This past fall was unique, as we experienced a longer than usual dry spell that was beneficial to the timber industry to deliver logs to the mill, but impacted the beef and dairy industries negatively. The dairymen had to irrigate longer, and the beef producers had to find feed for their cows, which increased costs. On the flipside, in two short months we have received an excess of rain. I spoke with a local beef producer just yesterday who was moving cattle due to flooding.

Our forests are improving with the present excess rain that we have received, and we are looking forward to some better spring weather. The lack of rainfall in the past few years has allowed extended forest management seasons for transportation of logs on gravel roads in the wet season.

In agriculture, we live weather pattern to weather pattern. We are preparing for the coming year and our community is working together. We are optimistic on what our future holds for 2019.

Issue Date: January 9, 2019
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Vintage 2018 was a recordbreaker in so many ways for the Sierra foothills winegrape industry, almost reminiscent in quality to that of vintage '97 in the past millennium.

First off, due to the adequate amounts of precipitation, the winegrape yields in our region were the highest ever recorded for most varietals, including zinfandel and barbera. With the lack of summer rains and open canopy management and integrated pest management, powdery mildew and economic injury from pests were not issues this growing season.

Much like vintage 1997, the small berries, along with natural low pH, enhanced dark colors across the board in red wines. The primary fermentation fermenting the sugars into alcohol finished up quite easily due to the high nutrition content from the grapes. The malolactic or secondary fermentation is taking its time due to the cooler seasonal temperatures.

The walnut harvest quantity was significantly smaller than average; however, the size of the walnuts was quite large. As with most olives throughout the state, here in the foothills we would estimate that all of crop was down 70 to 90 percent. There is still lots of speculation as to why this phenomenon occurred with the olives.

The annual pruning of vines has started in our region in preparation for harvest 2019. Wine sales and tourism through tasting rooms in our area are up, given the positive economy, quality and agritourism, agri-entertainment and agri-education.

Cheers to vintage 2019.

Issue Date: January 9, 2019
By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

It's raining here, so we are managing our corrals to help keep our dairy cows dry. Also, the rain has delaying the shaking of mummy nuts, which is a necessary task to prevent navel orangeworm damage in almonds. Our almond crop was good last year, but it is hard to gauge it because the trees are still young and growing.

Each year, the harvest gets better on these five- to six-year-old trees. From three to four, it was a pretty big jump in yield and from four to five it was another big jump. Planting the almonds really shows the importance of diversification.

We grow wheat right now for forage, and the wheat is looking perfect. We harvest the wheat as silage for our cows. We are doing winter maintenance and fortunately we have most of it done.

Issue Date: January 9, 2019
By Ed Hale, Imperial County diversified grower

The produce deal the last couple of years all over the state has just been a disaster. There is just too much product being grown. The guys in Salinas let out the contracts and they hate to get caught short because they guarantee to their customers that they will have a certain amount. For the guys who are making those contracts, it is a lot easier to over-contract a little bit to be safe. But they have shot wide of the mark the last couple years and we've ended up with way too much product. And we've had really good weather.

And then there was the E. coli scare in the Yuma area and as a result there were a lot of contracts that were cut way back in the desert. A lot of guys who produce a lot of vegetables were cut back as much as half. So that, coupled with the Baja hurricanes that hit in Mexico and Yuma, impacted their crops.

We grow a lot of forage down here. Alfalfa prices are strong and look like they are going to stay strong. A lot of that is due not so much that the dairies are getting better because they are not.

The reason hay prices are so high is because of a Saudi Arabian buyer, which is taking a tremendous about of hay out of the West and actually supporting our price.

They have two hay barns in the Imperial Valley and they buy hay all over the West, compress the bales, and send the hay to Long Beach once a week. So, this has stabilized the hay prices.

Issue Date: January 9, 2019
By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County turkey producer and walnut grower

We have experienced nice, cool weather that makes the walnut trees go into a good dormant state. Our walnuts are three-leaf, but we grafted them, so some of the trees are good size. We will have our first crop this year that we will shake with a stick, and have our first mechanical harvest in 2020.

Diversification is the right thing for me, but there are a lot of needs out there. Agriculture is cyclical, and we are going into the downward cycle and are just challenged with a lot of developments, such as our immigration policies, the minimum wage and a lot of other things.

We have our first sheep sale coming up in the next few weeks for our club lambs that are purchased by 4-H and FFA students.

On the turkey side, we keep seeing that proteins are challenging, especially meat proteins. There is a lot of protein on the market—chicken, turkey, pork. So, profitability has been pretty rough on the poultry industry and will probably continue throughout this year and the next couple. Feed costs are low, and that is a good sign, but I have a feeling that the soybean market that has been beat up will probably go to the other extreme if guys in the Midwest don't plant soybeans. With that, poultry companies are trying to survive, and as a contract grower, I get the ramifications of that.

The forecast for trade is that we will see a lot more consolidation in the poultry industry and a tougher trade situation going into the 2020s. I wish it was rosier, but there needs to be a balancing act between the animal protein and the plant protein. We all know where the nuts are, and I guess we are going to have some increase in older orchards and money being moved around before we have a better market.

But I think we will have a trade deal. China must come around. The only thing is that it is going to take awhile to get those markets back.

Issue Date: January 9, 2019
By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County diversified grower

Currently, most almond growers are trying to knock mummies off the trees to sanitize the orchards of navel orangeworm, a serious pest of almonds. Weather has not been conducive to using shakers to get a clean shake of less than two nuts left in trees.

Foggy, damp weather is what we need for shakers. Many growers have invested in putting rubber tracks on shakers so we can even shake in the rain. The more labor intensive way is by using labor to pole the nuts out of the trees.

We are currently pruning the prune orchards and trying to get the brush chopped up so we can spray fungicides to prevent infections of pruning cuts before it rains. Cytospora canker getting into prune trees by the pruning wounds has become a major issue in recent years.

It is felt that it has been on the increase ever since growers have stopped putting winter fungicides on and we are paying the price of losing scaffolds and eventual early tree death, thus the reason of going back to winter fungicide treatment, but with more environmentally friendly materials.

Winter cover crops have been planted in orchards. We plant these crops for disease control and to provide flowers for an alternate honeybee food source. The cover crops have germinated and are growing well, better than last year.

Most of the winter weed control has been completed and winter maintenance of equipment and irrigation systems is occurring now.

What is unknown is how the new political year is going to impact agriculture. We must stand together in unity to protect our viability into the future.

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