From the Fields® - March 20, 2013

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By Guy Rutter, Sacramento County beekeeper

Our bees are in the Modesto area for the most part. The almond bloom is finishing up, but due to the late bloom and because of the cold weather and the weather like it is now, some of the petals haven’t fallen yet, so a lot of growers are slow to release the bees. Cherries and apples are next to be pollinated. With the warm weather, it’s brought the cherries on quicker than normal. We are hoping to get in there in a reasonable amount of time, but without getting the bees released from the almonds it’s pretty hard to get them there when you can’t get them out.

Also, a lot of the almond orchards are irrigating right now and sometimes the wet ground makes it hard to get the bees out. And it all depends if it is heavy ground or sandy ground too. With the dry weather and the drought that we’re in, whether it’s proclaimed or not, it’s still a drought, so people are starting to irrigate.

Overall, I think that the almonds were pollinated very well. I don’t really think they could have asked for better once they started blooming. Once the almonds started blooming, the bees had consecutive days of good weather to pollinate.

By Dennis Fitzgerald, Siskiyou County alfalfa grower

We are just starting to get some of our early field work and spraying for weeds done. Things are pretty dry and we could certainly use some more moisture. Hay prices are good, but I know the dairies still have financial problems. Hopefully, their situation will improve because that is who we depend on. The dairies are basically the customers I depend on for the bulk of my sales. So if they are not doing well, that doesn’t bode well for us in the long term.

We usually do our first cutting around the 15th of June. We are in that Intermountain area where we just get three cuttings a year. Our first and third cuttings are our best ones. The second cutting is more like summer hay. It looks pretty and it will run 54 TDN, but it is primarily dry cow hay.

I don’t have any major weeds, so I don’t grow Roundup Ready alfalfa. If I had quack grass or something like that, I would probably grow Roundup Ready alfalfa because that would be a good way to get rid of the quack grass. Primarily with the weeds I have, I just use conventional herbicides that work well for that. We average about 4-1/2 to 5 tons per acre, depending on the age of the stand. Younger stands yield more and as they get older the yields start dropping down. In my area, we get about seven or eight years from a stand. I am primarily dairy hay, so at the end of the life of the stand, I will just tear it out and either go with a grain crop or summer fallow and just replant.

We had a really nice December and then January came and we had two weeks where it was brutally cold, low temperatures and it was very dry. Basically, we had no moisture for January and just very little in February. Once the alfalfa comes out of dormancy we have to start irrigating early, which is no fun because of the cost of power to pump from our wells. It is still freezing at night, so we have to shut our water off.

By Scott Stone, Yolo County beef producer

The one thing you can say for certain about California weather is that you will not have the same kind of weather two years in a row. Last year in the cattle business, we had a poor fall and a great spring. This year, we are had a great fall and up to this point a poor spring. After two months of hard freezes and two months of no rain, our cattle are starting to wonder what’s going on. The feed is short everywhere, but the cattle seem to be staying in pretty good shape.

In a year like this, the feed doesn’t look much different on the side of the fence where the cattle have grazed and the other side of the fence where they haven’t grazed yet. We keep rotating fields but there has been very little regrowth of the grasses. We are starting the pumps on our irrigated pastures and hay crops next week as the fields are starting to get pretty dry. This is about 6-8 weeks earlier than in a normal year (what’s that?).

Cattle prices have stayed very strong in all sectors of the market and that is the silver lining in the industry right now. The fear is that beef prices will continue inching upward and that consumers will start backing off purchasing the more expensive beef cuts. We ranchers are the consummate optimists, so we keep plugging along, good years or bad, always doing the dance with Mother Nature.

By Steve Pilz, Placer County diversified grower

We are at the end of mandarin harvest season. We have some 70-year-old heritage mandarins. They are probably bigger than they should be economically, but they are pretty nice to store some of the fruit through the winter and we are able to go to the farmers market with some freshly picked mandarins for maybe another week, maybe two. We also have navel oranges and mineola tangelos, grapefruit and a few lemons, the last of our winter squash. And we are waiting for our ever-popular tomato season. Last year, we grew about 23 to 30 different varieties of tomatoes. We are fine-tuning our selections for our customers and for economics. We also grow about five different varieties of cherry tomatoes and a whole other allotment of summer crops.

We are attempting to grow seedless watermelons. We are in our third year of that. We’ve had some great tutoring from Claudia Smith, a retiring watermelon grower, and we think we will be able to get some watermelons into the Tahoe region by the Fourth of July.

We market our crops at the Foothills Farmers Market in Placer County and a little bit at our home ranch.

The rainstorms we had during the first part of December and right before Christmas really brought on a lot of brown rot for the mandarins. Everything that was six feet or lower, 80 percent of that was damaged by brown rot. And then there was wind damage on the top two or three feet of the trees. So between the eight feet from the ground and the top two or three feet, there is still some pretty reasonable fruit there.

The heavy winds that we had right after the frost dropped a lot of our navel oranges on the ground. So that is what usually carries us over into April and May at the farmers market is the navel oranges. I’ve been farming for about 38 years now and I’ve learned not to spend my money until we have it. We’ll eke by.

By Jonnalee Henderson, Colusa County almond and walnut grower

In the almonds, most blossoms have fallen from the trees and new leaves are filling the void that the blossoms left. We had great weather during bloom with warm weather to encourage bee activity and, so far, no frost damage. Although spring rains bring with them a heightened chance of disease, we are hoping that some March and April storms will bring much-needed rain to replenish our groundwater and surface water storage.

Spring activities are currently under way as we continue our fertilizing program, foliar nutrient sprays, gypsum applications and rodent control practices. We also continue replanting old and fallen trees.

In our 12-year-old Howard walnut orchards that are planted in a hedgerow, we have recently finished mechanically pruning every third row. In these developed orchards, we prune every third row every year and hand prune only in selected areas. In addition, a few weeks ago we finished blowing and mowing the leftover walnuts from last year’s harvest to help prevent the spread of navel orangeworm. The male flowers, organized in catkins, are just beginning to emerge and we are preparing blight spray materials.