From the Fields® - June 20, 2012

By Domenic Carinalli, Sonoma County dairy farmer

The silage has been cut and the first cutting is in the pit. That was during the first part of May. We had a very dry winter and then we had a lot of rain in the springtime in our area, which helped, and we ended up with very good crops. We're now irrigating for two more cuttings of silage.

The cows are producing well, along with everybody else in the state. There's lots of milk on the market, and it's depressed our prices. The last couple of weeks, we've seen a little increase in the price of butter and cheese, so hopefully that will continue and we can see some better milk prices in the future.

The new alfalfa hay coming in is a little lower price than it was a year ago, which helps the dairy industry. Corn is off a little bit too. If those two prices come in a little cheaper, it helps us. And if the price of milk goes up a little bit, maybe we can get back to where we're cash-flowing again. I pasture part of my cows, but I buy most of my feed—alfalfa hay, corn and soybeans. So feed prices do have a big impact on us.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

In the low desert of Southern California, we have just begun our fourth cutting of alfalfa. Yields are good, but the price continues to slip. The market is 25 to 30 percent down from February. The export alfalfa/grass market helps to stabilize these sliding prices.

I think the current price will support the dairies to re-enter the buying market. Hopefully, that stabilizes the market. Typically, at this time, many producers are holding their production and either stacking or filling barns for the winter "take out."

Our cotton crop looks very promising, even though this was one of the worst years for thrips damage. We are currently at the 15th node, with many of the first through third positions filled. We are off to a good start 90 days after planting, but we have a long way to go.

We are trying to have the healthiest plants possible as we enter the high nighttime temperatures of July through September. Level I and Level II heat stress exacerbates fruit shed. Much like the alfalfa market, the cotton market is down 29 percent from February.

Many growers are currently harvesting several varieties of melons in the area.

By Tonetta Gladwin, Merced County fig grower

We are starting harvest. We are on track this year with normal harvest timing because of weather. Last year, we didn't start until the Fourth of July and everything was about two weeks late, and that was because we had a really wet spring. This year, we had a pretty dry spring and we're more on course for regular timing.

As a fresh fig producer, our first crop is the black mission fig. The second crop will probably also start on time, which is early August.

Our production looks really good. We were not affected by the spring hail as some crops were, so the fig season looks to be on track and normal with no crop damage. Weather looks really great. We are eternally and always optimistic at this point of the season. I had heard that other counties south of me have had some crop damage from hail and freeze, which would affect first-crop (black mission). Luckily, because of where I am, I avoided that, and I'm looking at quite a bit of fruit on the trees.

I've been planting orchards this spring, so we're looking to increase our volume over the next couple of years. It's not in big volumes, but there have been a lot of orchards removed in the past decades—hundreds and hundreds of acres from Fresno to Merced—so the fact that we are planting new orchards is a long-term commitment to our industry to actually be planting right now, since figs are 80-year trees.

I have good demand. I do mail order. I hope to be able to expand my business by increasing the acreage that I farm. I am seeing interest in other countries, such as Japan and China. Never have I shipped to China, but there's a lot of interest for export. We do export quite a bit of our product currently to Canada. As much of it goes into Canada as stays in the United States, and 90 percent of our product is shipped across the Mississippi, so not a lot of it stays within California.

By Shannon Wooten, Shasta County beekeeper

We are winding down our queen shipments for spring. When the weather turns hot, it is hard to keep the queens alive during shipment so we stop and start up again the end of August.

The bees have made very little honey this spring. I think the weather is upside down, so the plants are stressed and produce very little honey. We have moved a lot of bees to the mountains hoping to find some honey there and some have been moved into the summer locations in Fall River Valley.

The next move will be to the north near the Oregon border. We will need more rain in June to make our summer better for honey production.

By Carol Scheiber, Placer County cattle rancher

Right now, it's irrigation season, and we continue irrigating almost all summer because we move from one field to another. As soon as the cows move out of a field, then we start irrigating it and they go to another one. We rotate them around that way. We got our water allotment that we requested, so that's good. Right now we're hauling hay that's been baled.

We're still getting caught up with cleaning up all the extra grass that the cows can't get to. We are giving the cows some shots to get them through the summer. Everything looks good. We don't have any pinkeye. So far, the cows have been keeping the starthistle eaten down, so that's not been a problem this year either.

The market has been good. We will probably sell calves earlier because we have a (highway) bypass going through our property, so we're shorter on summer feed. They started building the bypass in 2008 and it is not done yet; they're still working on it. It's supposed to be open this year, but who knows what month. We ended up selling the piece of land that the bypass cut off from the ranch. This will be the last crop of hay we will get off of that piece of land that we sold. The people who bought it are developing it, but they're not going to develop right away, so they said for us to go ahead and take our crop off. That helps them with fire break, too.

We bought another piece of land next door to us that happened to come up for sale that we've been using for spring feed for 12 years. So we've kept the ranch with the same amount of acreage by doing that.

By Craig Pedersen, Kings County diversified grower

Things are progressing here in Kings County after a week of very windy conditions prevented any type of herbicide or insecticide applications. Some light to moderate tree damage also accompanied the wind.

Cotton is progressing nicely with much better germination and generally all around better growing conditions than in 2011. First irrigation has been completed as well on cotton. Early corn has began pollination.

June 1 marked the start of the summer irrigation release from Pine Flat Dam to the Kings River watershed.

Prices on most commodities have slipped from 2011 highs, upland cotton by nearly 50 percent; surface water supply is tight; fuel prices remain very high. What a difference a year makes.