From the Fields® - September 8, 2010

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified grower

The weather has been ideal. We are getting the fields ready and putting the last weed spray down. Some orchards are starting to shake a little bit and the rest of us are all preparing for the fast approaching harvest. We aren’t very far behind and it seems to be catching up to normal, if anything. We are optimistic that the weather will hold and everything will go well. It all depends on when the rains come, but who has a crystal ball for that? The almond crop in our area looks OK. I don’t think it is as big as in some areas of the state, but it looks pretty good.

Prices seem to be OK and we are good with that. We have plenty of water; we are in great shape with water here.

We are wrapping up the corn, putting the last irrigations on that and other than that, I am getting my haunted house and pumpkins ready to start going around the first of October. The pumpkins are starting to color up already.

By Shannon Wooten, Shasta County beekeeper

Earlier this year, I thought this would be a good one for forage for the bees this summer, but it hasn’t worked out that way in Northern California. It hasn’t been very good at all. A little south of us, there seemed to be better weather conditions. I’m not quite sure why because we thought we were in pretty good shape, but it just got dry on us and the plants dried up and we weren’t able to produce hardly any honey at all.

We’ve moved bees to try to locate in better conditions. We’ve got the bees scattered from 6,000 feet elevation clear down to the valley floor. We are up on the Oregon border, we’re up in the McArthur area. Some areas did OK; other areas we didn’t even put bees in because there was no moisture there at all and no plants at all, so we stayed out. It’s just a different year and I can’t explain anything about this year. Usually I kind of know what is going on, but not this year.

My main business is producing queens. Then pollination is second and honey is way down the list. The queen business was excellent. People are still recovering from the colony collapse disorder. They are still making divides and increasing their numbers. That is the name of the game now; you have to get your bee numbers really high so that when you lose some you are still back to where you really want to be, and that is what the drive is for most beekeepers.

I’ve had some of the colony collapse disorder, but not a great amount. It is ongoing. It is still out there. Whether or not it is going to be bad this year, I don’t know and probably no one does. It depends on the winter, I guess.

We are getting ready for winter now. We’ve fed bees most of the summer. We are putting a lot of extra feed on the bees now to get them ready for winter. We are trying to raise a bunch of baby bees so we have a larger cluster of bees going into winter. We are working to make the bees as healthy as we can. You want to build your hive populations up starting about now to get ready for the pollination season. If you have a good box of bees now, you can get through winter with a good population.

By Nicholas Miller, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower

After a long, cool growing year, the summer arrived at the end of August and came on strong, so the grapevines are doing a lot of catch-up work. As we continue to update our numbers, it looks more and more like it’s going to be a condensed harvest.

However, more than weather, yields or any other worry of the 2010 crop, we are all very focused on the winery industry’s new Public Enemy No. 1—the European grapevine moth. While there still have be no incidents in San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara counties where our vineyards are located, we are very concerned with how the movement of grapes throughout the state this harvest can potentially spread this pest.

By Burt Bundy, Tehama County diversified farmer

Right now we are working more with our beef cattle. We are sending fish to the lakes also, so it’s kind of doing both. We have a little different calving season than what most people do. We calve starting the first of June and then we put the bulls in the first of September. Then, when we put the cows up in the winter pasture, we don’t have the bulls with them. The calves are fairly decent size so they don’t have problems with the mountain lions and things like that.

We run the cattle in the foothills just above Los Molinas in the eastern foothills. We have just a small herd. We used to run more, but we don’t anymore. It’s just a cow-calf operation. With the mountain lion problems, we used to calve up there but we don’t do it any more; we calve down here. We wean the calves off in early spring and take them right to the sale. It works well for us. The feeder calves’ prices have been good. We look at that early spring market and it’s usually pretty good about then.

On the catfish, we are just going through our regular harvest for the summertime. We are about out of fish. The market is good, but the availability of market-size fish is really tough right now. Most of the producers are getting toward the end of their supplies. If you have contracts that call for more fish, it is difficult. Either you are looking for other fish that might be available or feeding like mad trying to get some size to the ones you’ve got.

We start breeding fish in spring, usually May. Then we start collecting spawns and hatching those little fish out. Right now, we are feeding those small fish getting ready for fall. When we finish harvesting we will spread those smaller fish to the ponds to whatever is needed in each pond and those will get ready actually for two years from now, not for next year.

The weather this year has been strange. If you look at the fruit and nut crops, they are late. It’s been a little difficult on the feeding of the fish. We rely on water temperatures as far as feeding goes. We had about a 35-degree temperature variation, from a couple of days from highs near 100 to highs in the 70s a few days later, and that really does affect the fish.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We are growing alfalfa and cotton. Our alfalfa, we are just finishing up our sixth cutting. We are about two weeks behind just because we had such a cool spring. We are just coming off of an unseasonably cool week. That is OK. What really hurt us was the cool spring. In March, April and May, we had such cool temperatures that our cotton was way behind in its germination and physical stature entering the summer period.

What that really translated to is we probably lost three-quarters of a ton to a ton and a half of alfalfa production because of those cool temperatures for such a prolonged period of time. I think that our alfalfa and cotton yields, because of those cool temperatures, we’re probably going to be 15 to 25 percent off of our historical yield potential. The price for cotton has been very high right now. We are seeing better price stability in alfalfa than we have the last two years.

There could be some upward trend in wheat prices, so that may attract some alfalfa acreage to wheat. The cotton price is up and that will also compete for acreage with alfalfa. It may help limit the planted acres of alfalfa, so there may be some upward potential of alfalfa prices next year. I think the market is going to be pretty flat this year for alfalfa.

In the last month, we’ve been having unseasonably high alfalfa caterpillar infestations. We’ve really been concerned about that and that has added expense to our production.