From the Fields® - March 4, 2015

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

Winter is winding down and while we have had more rain than last year, I fear it is not enough to make up for such low levels in our dams and reservoirs.

There is no doubt in my mind this drought will bring those in the farming community closer together. We can fight for water or work together and persevere. Hopefully, we will have a very wet spring, as we sure need the rain.

Orchard pruning is almost finished. While we had some early rain, there has been enough dry days for us to move quickly and almost finish ahead of schedule. We are still stacking brush and there are a few orchards that need some spraying.

Hopefully, there have been enough chill hours so the walnut trees will have great bloom. At this point we do have better ground moisture than last year. Shop work and repairs continue for the up and coming season.

The walnut market has been in the news recently. While I, like many, have my concerns about the price of walnuts and the recent port closure, I am optimistic these issues will be resolved and be only a bump in the road.

By Stephanie Leimgruber, Imperial County hay grower

We're finished with our clippings in Imperial Valley and are getting into our first cutting of alfalfa. We had a week of freezing temperatures in January that hit the alfalfa pretty hard. Depending on where growers were in their cutting schedule, the hay would have anything from no damage to severe frost damage.

Our local hay industry has been severely impacted by the port slowdowns for the last eight months. We're relieved that the port authorities and the longshoremen's union have finally come to an agreement, but I am sure that the economic impact of this artificially created shortage will have a far-reaching ripple effect into the future. I'm hearing that it will take two to six months to clear out the backlog of ships.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

Right now, we're planting redwood trees in an area where we cut Douglas fir last year. We're essentially dryland farmers and need the soil to be wet enough to get the new trees started.

The drought has made the soils very dry. One way we gauge soil moisture is through perennial seeps, natural springs that normally run when precipitation exceeds about 15 inches. This year, the springs didn't start running until after we got about 25 inches.

We got some storms, but we haven't gotten any rain for a while and now things are drying out again. We had 30 inches in our area, but it came all at once and then nothing. We're hoping for more rain in coming weeks.

I am seeing the effect of the drought in the trees. We bore into the trees and take wood samples to indicate how fast the trees are going, based on the rings. We've seen smaller growth rings for the past couple of years. The drought has been hard on the trees.

In the redwood region, the stress is not as severe. But in the Sierra, there's a lot more stress, particularly in areas where there hasn't been any thinning.

Overall, growing conditions in our area look better than last year. I'm optimistic we're going to get quite a bit more rain this year. A wet March and April will make things better for our water supplies than they have been.

By Wayne Vineyard, Placer County rice and cattle producer

Currently, we're working on water lines and valves for our rice ground. We have an adequate water supply right now. Our dam is full and started to spill last week. We're in the South Sutter Water District and we'll be OK, but some farmers won't get as much water as they need because there's no runoff.

We don't get water from the big projects. We get water from Camp Far West Dam and our water rights go back to the early 1900s.

For our cattle operation, we get water from the Nevada Irrigation District and there again, the storage is good, but there's no snow. In terms of supplies, the district doesn't want to predict how much will be available until later in the season.

The feed situation for our cattle has been good so far this year. The grass came up, but it's growing so fast it doesn't have enough nourishment in it now. So we're feeding hay. Hay that comes up in March doesn't have much strength in it.

The markets for rice and cattle have been strong. We had a good calf crop this year and the herd looks like it's in good shape. But, we're prepared to sell in April or May, depending on the water situation.

By Jan Garrod, Santa Clara County equestrian and winegrape grower

It looks like we're getting about normal rainfall. Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties are not dependent on the water projects for water deliveries, but Santa Clara County does have access to the Central Valley Project, so we're dependent on the snowpack.

We're worried about that element of our supply. Agricultural water rates in Santa Clara County are expected to increase as much as four-fold in the next 10 years because of infrastructure changes—that's not even counting the impact of limited water due to the drought.

Our coastal counties have gotten rain and reservoirs are getting fuller, but not as much as we'd hoped. We're still suffering from the drought.

Our vineyards are waking up early and our row crops have been doing well because it has been a mild winter. The rains we did have came down in big flushes rather than smaller, more gradual rains. We hope there was enough to replenish our table and help us get through the coming growing season.

We've been fighting the same old battles over the right to farm in our suburban areas. Our cattlemen struggle with mountain lion issues. Applying pest-management materials on berries is always an issue in areas where there's urban growth.

By Eric Anderson, San Diego County nurseryman

I'm catching up after attending a horticulture trade show in San Francisco. It was a combined event with landscape contractors. There was a lot of discussion about the water situation and I'll be helping with a small ag show here in San Diego for small farms.

We are the nation's No. 1 county in the number of certified organic farms, avocados and ornamental horticulture. San Diego County does more in horticultural sales than the entire state of Oregon.

For me, this year's crops will include palms, bird of paradise, and for obvious reasons, more cactus and succulents. We used to grow a lot of foliage plants, but demand is dying for those plants.

We're concerned about water like everyone else. Our water rates run about $1,600 an acre-foot and, with other charges, the cost adds up to about $2,000 an acre-foot. I understand that some San Joaquin Valley farmers paid that much last year to keep their trees alive.

In a short water year like this, I'm not sure our crops will pencil out very well. We've been paying these rates for several years as the agricultural rates were phased out by the water agencies.

Fortunately, we've haven't had problems finding workers. But water has moved up in the share of costs for operating our business.