From the Fields® - September 3, 2014

By Pat Borrelli, Merced County diversified grower

We just finished cutting our hay. The price has actually dropped off quite a bit due to some of the dairies cutting way back. Exporters are not exporting as much hay. The price of milk-cow hay is still on the higher side, but dry-stock hay has dropped.

We just finished our fifth cutting and we're hoping to get one more. We planted about the same acreage. The tonnage has done pretty well. It's a little above average for us. The growing year has been good and we fertilized a little bit more. I think the increased tonnage has to do with the type of year we had, the weather and the management on the crop.

The cotton seems to be doing well. We grow acala. We're done irrigating it. We've seen some cracked bolls on it already, so it's coming along. We used less water on it this year just trying to cut back on water. It seems to be OK.

Our dry beans seem to be normal; they look OK. They're green baby beans, but dried. We're putting the last water on those. We're just starting to cut them. Harvest will probably be in two weeks.

We have some processing tomatoes and we just started harvesting. The first field's yield was lighter. I think that had to do with the weather. I haven't quite figured that one out yet. The next field was a little better. We didn't have the leafhopper insect virus as bad this year.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain farmer

This has been one wild roller coaster of a season for me. In early February, my entire crop was planted to dry soil and with no irrigation potential, some serious talks with the Almighty were in order. I don’t think any of us had ever seen such a dry winter.

What little rain we got from that time forward was the right amount, at the right time, with none to spare. We ended up with an above-average crop yield, and hay prices have been at all-time highs. Sales have been good and it looks like there’s a home for all of it.

I also grow several hundred acres of wheat and barley. The U.S. corn crop is coming in with better yields than expected, so all grain prices are lagging. I’m selling grain for less per ton than much of my hay. Since grain is just part of the plant that is harvested for hay, this pricing is just backwards. There’s no choice but to deal with the reality and hope things right themselves.

On the farm, we’re finishing up the last few acres of harvesting, and cleaning up the residual straw left by the combines. Straw was once a minor by-product of a grain crop, but the last decade, there’s been some good money in that by-product.

By Chris Lange, Tulare County citrus and raisin grower

We were hurt during the December 2013 freeze, but fortunately for us, we were hurt not as severely as many other growers. We lost crop and I suspect lost revenue, but overall, the 2013-14 crop has just been a banner year because we had the majority survive the freeze and prices have been so outstanding. So that has been a plus. That pertains to navel oranges, valencia oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes and mandarins. It’s almost all the citrus crops, and I would say across the board the returns have been pretty amazing—the highest we’ve seen in many years.

But the freeze was not a good event. We probably lost at least 3,000 young trees. So that was a major blow. But most of that acreage where we lost the trees has been replanted this year. They were trees that were less than a year old. We had no permanent damage in our older, producing trees.

As a result of the drought, we have close to 100 acres that we are not watering because either the production from those groves were low and/or they were old trees and probably ready to be replaced anyway. Water is tremendously scarce and expensive, and so we just have to make the choice of where we’re going to use the water we have, and it’s not going to go on a tired, old orange grove. The reality of this drought really is a wake-up call, that if something isn’t producing to the level that the water is costing, you’d better rethink about what you’re growing on that ground.

We’re planting new varieties of citrus crops. These are orchards that were already planned to be redeveloped. This year we planted Meyer lemons, some more Lisbon lemons, blood oranges, Fukumoto navels, Atwood navels, Star Ruby grapefruit and Minneola tangelos.

We also grow Thompson seedless grapes for raisins. We’re getting very close to harvesting. We do dried-on-the-vine raisins. The canes have already been cut, so probably in October we will do the harvest. And we think our crop is up 20 percent.

By Chris Bierwagen, Nevada County fruit grower

We are in the last stages of harvest for freestone peaches. We’re picking our O’Henry peaches, and then that will be the end of the season for peaches. The peach crop was good this year.

We’ve been picking three kinds of summer apples. Then we will be transitioning into fall apples and doing apple cider. The warm weather affected the apple crop really severely and cut it back because of the lack of chilling requirements. But it was more variety-specific. Some varieties have apples and some don’t have any. And it’s the second year they didn’t have any, so that’s problematic for apple production.

But the lack of chilling requirements didn’t mess with the peach crop. That’s a blessing this year and we had a full crop of peaches.

We finished picking berries for the season. We have raspberries and boysenberries. They had a phenomenal crop this year. They don’t seem to be affected at all by chilling requirements.

We’re gearing up for our fall pumpkin patch and fall festival. We do school tours during the month of October, and we’re in the planning stages for that. We take care of a lot of acres for gourds, pumpkins and squash and all the decorative stuff. Beginning the first weekend of October, we make apple cider. Our pumpkin patch will be open and schools bring their kids here during the week so they can pick their own pumpkins and drink apple cider.

By Jim Yeager, Yolo County sheep rancher

I think a major concern for sheep producers right now is lack of feed and lack of water. Everybody is hauling water. The ponds have dried up. A few places have had some fires go through in our county, but it hit more cattle areas than sheep areas. We lost a lot of range in the lower foothills because of orchards and vineyards going in, so we had to move up into the higher-hill areas where there are more predators. We like to stay in those lower-foothill areas because it’s more open ground for us and they don’t have a lot of trees.

The other concern we have is we don’t have surface water this year in our county, and so some alfalfa fields that only get surface water got one cutting, and those fields are disked up now. That means less fall feed for us on alfalfa. That’s going to be a major concern this fall. Normally in the fall, after they take the last cutting, we put our sheep on alfalfa. There are a number of fields that have no surface water deliveries at all, so that affected a lot of alfalfa.

A lot of people are trying to find residue feed, whatever they can. They’re going on wheat stubble, onion fields and suckering on vineyards. We have people going into walnut orchards early. But there are a lot of orchards that we can’t go on because everybody is worried about the food safety issue. It has limited what we have, because a lot of those other crops haven’t been planted because there’s not enough water. So this feed situation to keep these flocks going is a major concern.