From the Fields® - October 24, 2012

By Larry Massa, Glenn County rice and beef rancher

I'm getting ready now to send some cattle to market and the price is OK. At this time of year, we run out of feed in the mountain grazing areas at the north end of the state. We either have to send them to a feedlot or sell them at the local auction yard. I can't guess the way beef markets will go. If I could do that, I might make some money at this.

We culled heavy last year because of the lack of feed due to a dry winter. So we don't have too many animals to feed. Right now, the barns are full of hay and we're optimistic it's going to rain.

Water conditions are bleak in western Glenn County. My third well went dry this morning, which causes great concern. We have to provide water to two houses and the cattle, but we've only got one well left.

The wells that went dry are relatively new. I put them in during this drought and went back and deepened one by 100 feet. That didn't seem to work because it's dry again. We're relying on our old mainstay well right now, which has provided water to us for generations.

The hills around here are dry. There's not a lot of natural water left. The streams and natural springs have dried up. Unless it rains, water is going to be a serious problem.

But, I'm optimistic. I think it's going to rain. We just completed our rice harvest. The migrating birds are coming early.

Yields were pretty decent. But there was one disappointing field. I think everybody has that one field that just never does what you want.

It was a difficult rice harvest because we kept bumping into uneven drying in the fields and we'd have to hold up harvest. That happened at least three or four times. I don't know what caused this; I could offer a guess, but that's all it would be.

By Noel Stehly, San Diego County specialty grower

Harvest for Hass avocados is finished and we're moving into the smooth skinned varieties—Bacon and Fuerte. We're picking dragon fruit now. We've got about five acres planted and this is our first harvest.

Fall and winter vegetables are going into the ground now, everything from sugar snap peas to broccoli and cauliflower. We're getting close to the valencia orange season, probably about a month left.

We've been going through pumpkins like wildfire. We've had about 300 children through on school tours. We have a new employee who will be devoting her time to increasing the number of educational tours next year and we're looking forward to more visitors.

We've got 17,000 square feet of grass for the kids to play on and eat lunch, as well as talk about farming, before we take them on walking or wagon tours. The heart of the ranch is an education center.

We grow here 365 days a year. We're building fences, pruning lemons, finishing trellises.

In the coming year, we're looking forward to expanding our vegetable operation and expanding the school tours and holding open houses once a month where we can give tours and sell products direct from the farm.

In every aspect of the farm, we have to find a way to generate revenue. It's not the farm my dad had; it's not the same economy. We have to get creative to make sure it's profitable.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We will be finishing up this week with our cabernet sauvignon and old vine zinfandel. Those grapes are a little late this year. We got a nice crop on those vines this year, which we haven't had for a really long time, so it has taken a lot longer to ripen the zinfandel. Plus the labor situation with hand picking has been tight.

The weather has been perfect all through harvest; we couldn't have asked for anything better. The warm weather last week really helped the varieties with their sugar development. I am looking forward to the rainfall after harvest. Getting a nice rain year would be good.

We finished up the dry beans last week. The crop looked good. It was somewhat variable because we grew several different varieties. Some were a little light because they have different bloom times and weather conditions during bloom varied. Overall, the beans look pretty good.

We were able to get the beans in the ground early this year, which was really good. In years past, when we had some rains we had to wait awhile and dry them out before we could get them out of the field, so this year was really nice to be done in the middle of October.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified grower

Our Halloween pumpkin patch and corn maze have been pretty good and we are having a lot of fun. We are tracking about 30 percent up from last year and last year was a good year. The weather has been perfect. It was a little hot to start, but it has cooled down and if we don't get too much rain between now and the end of the month, we will be able to get all the pumpkins out and the corn chopped. Then we can turn everything back to a working farm.

We have more than 40 varieties of pumpkins of every size, shape and color. We even have some pink pumpkins this year and we are making a donation to cancer research. We have some really pretty pumpkins because of the ideal growing season. We have donated a lot of pumpkins to the community and the community has been very responsive back to us by supporting us here at the pumpkin patch.

We are just finishing up the almond harvest. The quality looks good and the prices are up, so growers are happy with that. The early varieties were off a little bit in yield and I don't know yet about the later almonds. There was a chance of rain coming in, so guys were hustling to try to get all the almonds up before the rain. I have also heard that the walnut harvest is going along very smoothly. The last of the corn has also been chopped, so the next thing will be to plant some winter forage crops. We have the last cutting of alfalfa coming off.

We are hoping for a wet winter because we are coming off the sixth driest year in Turlock Irrigation District history. So we need some rain this winter. We could definitely use a good snowpack.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer

Almond harvest is about done and it looks like yields are a little off. We'll know by how much once the crop is processed.

Cotton is being defoliated and will soon be ready to pick, although other people are already picking. We're a little behind and typically we always pick later because we have a different cultural plan than most.

We plant when conditions are optimal and harvest when they're optimal. But acala usually is ready sooner than pima and we're all pima. It will probably be another 10 days before we get going with cotton.

We've harvested our second crop of pistachios and yields were pretty good everywhere. We're harvesting pomegranates now and we don't know how the harvest will look in terms of yield right now. Both of these crops are relatively new to our growing program.

All the other crops are in. Processing tomatoes were pretty good; garlic for dehydrating was mixed in terms of yields.

Our water costs have gone up, as well as costs for increased well pumping. We've also fallowed some land. Going into the next water year, if we have a normal year, we may see allocations similar to this year—40 percent or better of contract amount.

If it's dry, it will be half of that and that would be tough. Once the cotton is off, we'll pray for rain and hope we have a meaningful winter.