From the Fields® - April 3, 2013

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County hay grower

Things have literally been heating up in the low desert of Southern California. As a high pressure system rolled through, the weather was perfect for harvesting our first cutting of alfalfa and for planting cotton.

A warm, dry weather pattern allows good opportunity to cure alfalfa. First cuttings of alfalfa typically produce 1.25 to 1.5 tons an acre. Our yield is every bit of that.

Alfalfa fields that were grazed in the winter or clipped are looking very clean with good protein levels. Supplies of alfalfa appear to be limited, but production is starting to gear up. Demand, at this time, is firm.

Typically, I like low temperatures to be 55 degrees or above for cotton planting. Mid-March provided a great planting slot. If temperatures cool off dramatically, which they appear to be doing, it could make for some really challenging germination opportunities.

Last year, our cotton production was 25 percent below the previous year and 15 percent below our three-year running average. A good start during the germination window provides the best opportunity for the plant to endure the high summer temperatures we see in the desert.

By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County beef producer

It’s too early to judge the whole rainy season, but it would be great to have some more rain. The big storms in November and December filled up our reservoirs, so whatever happens, our water supply shouldn’t be too bad. Maybe there’ll be late spring rains that will catch us up.

We’re looking forward to the predicted patch of unsettled weather because it will help keep our grasses green, which our cattle depend on. Heat and lack of rain will cause the grasses to go to seed too soon. Pasture irrigation has already started on light soils in our area.

We’re in the middle of calving and things are busy. It’s going OK. The cattle market is down a bit, but we don’t have anything for sale right now, except for some of our grass-fed beef, so price doesn’t matter yet.

How many head we’ll keep depends on how much late-season rain we get. We’ll sell bred cows this spring, but prices may be low because of poor forage and high feed prices for corn.

If summer pastures don’t look good, people won’t be buying feeder cattle either. That’s too bad, because the consumer market for beef seems to be growing and there are a lot of positives on the market side.

It’s frustrating, though. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t worried about weather and water.

By Sarah Reynolds, Butte County rice farmer

On our family farm, we’re bringing out the tillage equipment and prepping rice ground for the 2013 planting season. We were grateful for the rains last week that helped add some moisture to the north valley.

The tractors are rolling with tri-planes and stubble disks tilling the soil and incorporating the straw back into the ground. The backhoe is being used to clean up the irrigation ditches during this time of year, weather, helps with disease control in our rice checks.

We are ahead of schedule due to the dry weather, which we haven’t had at this time of year since 2010.

April is always busy with grower meetings, which are important to keep up on current regulations and reporting. It’s a blessing to be starting off the planting season so positively.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery grower

Spring is in the air in San Diego County, although it was a long time in coming. Between the more than usual number of freeze events, temperatures averaging below normal and damaging hailstorms in the last few months, our plants have struggled and did not finish anywhere close to schedule.

Now that it is warming up and there is lots of sunshine, the change in the field is remarkable. And after a long, cold winter, our customers are more than ready for some color to brighten their homes and gardens. We’re hoping the weather will continue to cooperate with sunny weekends and mild temperatures, so as to encourage everyone to get out and plant.

The cost and availability of freight to ship our plants to customers across the country continues to be an issue. The exorbitant cost to bring equipment into compliance with government regulations is reducing the number of small operators willing to find financing to deal with these rules.

With fewer trucks available, coupled with high fuel prices and strong demand, the price to transport a load is creeping up to a point of economic infeasibility. California officials love the dollars we bring into the state by exporting, but the result of the air quality regulations on trucking could put that in serious jeopardy.

By Dennis Atkinson, Kern County diversified farmer

With almond bloom over and great weather the past few weeks, hopes are high for strong yields come harvest. At this point in time, the biggest unknown is how the bee shortage that has been felt industrywide will affect the crop, with some growers scrambling to find hives. Regardless, we move forward with business as usual, applying our mix of foliar fertilizers and soil-applied nitrogen.

Agriculture up and down the state has felt the impact of the lack of rain. We started irrigating our crops a month earlier than normal and hope water allocations from the local water district are kind once they are finalized in the coming months.

Pistachios are just starting to show signs of life with an inch or two of growth, and trees will be in bloom in a few weeks. With my luck, the rain that we all want now will come just as these trees start to bloom. Other than irrigation and a trip through the field with the mower, these trees will be on cruise control for at least another month.

Our winegrapes are pushing about six inches of growth right now, and soon we will be able to get bunch counts to start determining what kind of crop we will have come harvest. With all this warm weather, the threat of powdery mildew isn’t too far off, so I’m sure our spray rigs will be making their first trip through the vines before too long.

By Johnnie White, Napa County winegrape grower

Bud break is starting in the southern part of the county for all varieties and we’re starting to see whites and early reds in the north valley. We’re finished pruning on the valley floor, but still working in the hills.

Right now, we’re checking all our frost systems. We’ve had a couple of frost nights already and we’ll probably be on frost patrol until about May 1.

All of our reservoirs are full and we’ve had the same amount of rain as usual, although it all came in November and December. The biggest concern is the Napa River. Right now it’s flowing at 38 cfs (cubic feet per second), but once it hits 10 cfs, we’re not allowed to divert water.

Even now, river diversions are limited to two to three hours a day. If it gets cold and we need to protect for frost, we’ll be out of luck.

The 2013 crop is in high demand. A lot of wineries are still looking to contract fruit. It’s a seller’s market—if you can get the crop off. But I don’t give estimates on crop size or quality until the fruit is on the scale.