From the Fields®

Issue Date: January 10, 2018
By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

There isn't much going on down here, but there may be some rain coming in soon so I can plant. I am crossing my fingers.

I need to get a good storm in here to start planting. I usually wait until I get an inch of rain to get the weeds germinating, so I can take them out before I plant my seed. That's what I'm waiting for and it is now getting pretty late in the season. I haven't had any significant rain at the ranch since February of last year.

I have some rainfall records going back to the 1930s. It has happened before. This is the fourth year where the ranch received no rain in September, October, November and December. The end result of those earlier years ranged from five to seven inches total rainfall, and we normally get 12 inches.

So, the prospects don't look very good. But you never know. Every year is different, and I basically have been on hold waiting for some rain. I haven't had normal rainfall since 2011.

I plant barley and oats mix to make grain hay for the horse market.

What did help last year was that Paramount Pictures was here in October to shoot a movie. It is about transformers. They built a gas station on the ranch and then blew it up with a meteor. I can't believe the detail that goes into something like this. They took out a fence in my feedlot and then when they were done, they built me a new fence.

So basically because of the movie, I will be able to farm for a couple more years.

Meanwhile, I am just on hold waiting for it to rain.

Issue Date: January 10, 2018
By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

We have finishing planting the wheat on our ranch and we are now getting ready to plant the garbanzo fields in the next several weeks.

Our garlic stand is established now, but it could really use some rain to progress.

Land preparation for tomatoes and pima cotton is ongoing for the coming season. The ground is hard and dry for our buried drip beds.

We need rain and we need it now.

Issue Date: January 10, 2018
By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

The last time I wrote one of these reports was back in August. I just re-read that piece, and I was so wrong that it made me laugh.

Yes, the rice looked really good at the time, both in terms of stand and also in weed control. But once harvest started in September, it became clear very quickly that this was not going to be a bin-busting year.

Yields ended up being about 10 percent below our average, and that turned out to be the case all across California rice country.

Ten percent off may not sound too bad, but in fact it is really quite unusual. Rice is generally a pretty stable crop, year-in and year-out; a 5 percent swing from average either way is usually about as far it goes.

While the hot summer we had was great for rice growth and development, perhaps it was too much of a good thing. My conclusion is that the hot summer favored vegetative development and that it was detrimental to reproductive (grain) development. We grew a great crop of straw.

Whatever the cause, after 25 years of growing rice, once again I am humbled about how much I don't know. The old saying about not counting your chickens until they hatch comes to mind.

On the bright side, after several years of declining prices, it appears that we hit a bottom with the 2016 rice crop and we are now seeing an upswing. If the trend continues, it could more than make up for the lower yields that we just experienced. But I'm not going to count those chickens just yet.

Issue Date: January 10, 2018
By Jeff Fowle, Siskiyou County livestock producer

Winter in the north has been nonexistent, unfortunately. It has been cold and dry, making for good feeding with no mud.

Spring cows are about to start calving, sale bulls are on feed and replacements are fat and happy.

The ewes are about to start lambing, sale bucks are growing well and due to the dry weather there have been no cases of footrot.

The lack of mud has also allowed for plenty of time to play with horses. At this rate, there won't be any cobwebs to dust off in the spring and several young horses have had early first rides.

Fall farming was able to run late and it looks like spring farming could start earlier than normal. However, with little to no snowpack, it is looking to be an interesting water year and likely another bad fire year. Prayers are going out for a cold, wet spring.

Issue Date: January 10, 2018
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Last year, we finally got caught up on average rainfall because of the drought. We get on average about 32 inches of rain, but last year we got 72 inches of rain. But because of all the drought years, this only put us to normal or maybe a little bit above average in the Sierra foothills overall.

The one thing we did notice was the excellent quality of the grapes. It always sounds like a cliché in the wine industry that it is always a great vintage, but this was the year for really dark colors in the grapes. I attribute this to the cooler temperatures over the summer. We had more cool days than high-heat days.

The other thing that has never happened in my 25 years as a winemaker is that everything went through the primary fermentation and the reds went through a second fermentation, and all done very quickly. Ninety days ago, the grapes were on the vines and today they are in the bottle, as far as zinfandel and barbera. These great wines are in the bottle. And I've heard that others have been able to do this, too. I think it is because the grapes had the nutrients and the water. When you have healthy grapes, things happen faster.

As far as the olive crop, there are starting to be more olives up here in the foothills. People like to have olive oil with their wine. The olive crop this year was very heavy. The trees were just leaning over with copious amounts of olives.

We don't spray for olive fruit fly or any other insects, but there were hardly any this year. I don't know what happened, but I think it was the natural predators and our integrated pest management practices that paid off. The olives were nice and clean.

As far as the walnuts, there was a large crop, but they were smaller sizes.

We say this every year, but this was a very challenging year for labor. The prices are phenomenal. And it doesn't even matter how much you pay, you just can't get the crews. There just aren't enough people out there to get through the harvest. So now we are using mechanical pruners. They are operated by battery pack and last about 12 hours on a charge. More and more things are going mechanical.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County organic dairy farmer

We are getting ready to sign a new contract with our milk company, so we have a little bit of changeover. Pastures are beginning to die off and the cows are in the barn.

The organic dairy market is decreasing in price right now because there is a lot of organic milk in the market. We actually went from $42 milk about a year and a half ago to $29. Our break-even price is like $32, so we are actually getting paid less than what it costs to produce the milk. We are considering possibly selling some cows and cutting back on our numbers.

Also, we are looking at labor costs and trying to decide whether to keep a guy or lose a guy. It is very difficult to decide to take a guy away from our operation and maybe not getting him back when we need to ramp up.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Wayne Vineyard, Placer County rancher and rice grower

We are about 90 percent done with calves on the ground. We have been feeding them a little hay, but this year, because of all the rain, we have had excellent grass. The rains came early and kept coming, so we got good grass and didn't have to give them supplemental feed quite as much as in some years. In this area, we were in a good situation, compared to areas south of Sacramento where they didn't get all the rains.

We keep about the same number of cows each year, and cycle out about 20 percent of the older cows every year in order to keep our same numbers, which are about all our pastures can support. The market is up a little bit, from what I have been reading. We sold our calves in August and September and prices have come up since then. We started out years ago with polled Herefords, but in recent years we have been doing more of the black cows, which is what the buyers seem to prefer. We had water this year and our water district gave us 100 percent water, so that really helped us with our feed.

Our rice was a couple weeks late getting in, but it came along fast and we were only about a week late in cutting. But we still had good yields. We got 82½ sacks per acre and we usually average around 80 sacks, so it was a good year. Our rice was pretty well standing, so we were able to cut it quite easily. We were all done by the first week of October and we beat the fall rains.

We could use another rain now. The grass is still wet, but rain is better than cold because rain keeps the soil warm, which helps the grasses to grow. We got a little frost in the low spots, not the high spots.

We've also been doing our winter maintenance on equipment and building new fences where we need it. I know other cattle producers are in the same boat as us, and we all enjoyed the good grass.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Russell Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

Regarding the fires, I know there are farms in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that have had major losses. Here in Goleta, we are probably 15 miles west of any active flame. It is just God-awful, smoky and ashy.

While we're paying close attention to what is happening with the fires, this is usually our slow time when we are taking care of the trees and getting ready for next year. We finished picking our lemons about a month and a half ago. We will probably do a side pick of avocados early in the year.

We are still doing our irrigations. That hasn't stopped, as we are waiting on rain. We never made it out of the drought. Our local water district had dropped to about 10 percent. It came up to 50 percent, but unfortunately that hasn't stopped the water districts from continuing with the surcharge that was put in place during the drought. The majority of our water is from our own wells. For some of our neighbors, it is critical because they are paying out huge amounts of money.

As far as labor, it is difficult. We try to follow the letter of the law and we have approached some people who are working on labor crews to come to work full time for us, as long as they have their papers. They are not looking for a regular job where they have daily hours. So, it is really tough because we could really use two more guys.

Issue Date: December 13, 2017
By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County diversified grower

Since almond and walnut harvest wrapped up, things are now winding down. We have been very busy with winter weed sprays and we've been blowing the strips over the last couple weeks. It has been really dry since the week before Thanksgiving. So, we've been backhoeing holes for trees. Since it is so dry, we have been disking to do some orchard floor prep for next year.

We were probably sub-par with our harvest this year, so we have decided to pull the trigger and ramp up our disking. Hopefully, we won't get any rain in the coming couple weeks. The forecast calls for little or no rain in December, and that is a little bit scary. We need the moisture. We are happy we are getting all the dirt work done now, but when January and February get here, we will be needing the water.

We have one field that we irrigate with surface water. Everything else is on wells. I hope to not have to turn the pumps on in January. That's the last thing we want to do.

Right now we are pruning our cherries. A lot of guys like to do their pruning in the summer because it restricts the growth of bacteria and other diseases. But I kind of fall back on what my grandpa always said, and that is to prune cherries every year in the wintertime. We are also gearing up for our winter dormant sprays.

Issue Date: November 29, 2017
By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This is the quiet time of the year. We got our cover crops planted before we got those two or three inches of rain, so that timing was really good. It is all germinated and growing.

We started a little weed spraying. With the high cost of labor, we are going to try a little different approach and this spring we will try some chemical suckering. This means I will be changing my weed spray program. Some of the chemical companies have been doing research on which herbicides to use on suckers and there have been some good, practical trials.

We haven't started pruning yet because we haven't had any frost. I don't know what the labor situation will be, but I'm sure it isn't better. Hopefully it will be stable, but who knows.

Our grapes this year were OK with production. I think last year was better on the production side. Chardonnay and old vine zinfandel were probably the worst ones. Old vine zinfandel's market has been fairly soft, so I am seeing a lot of old vines being pulled out in the Lodi area. So, there will probably be an adjustment on that variety.

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