From the Fields® - March 18, 2015

By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County beef producer

Normally, this would be a quiet time. The cows are turned out on winter range and they're starting to calve. Grass is pretty good and we hope it rains to support spring grass.

But actually, we're very busy. We had a huge storm come through the Hat Creek Valley and it just about wiped us out. It was a serious windstorm that did a lot of damage. We lost tons of big trees and most buildings on the ranch had some degree of damage. Small outbuildings were crushed or blew away. Every fence on the ranch has been impacted.

We're totally preoccupied right now with cleanup—getting timber and slash piled up, rebuilding fences, reshaping ditches. Everything was impacted and we're swamped with work.

The livestock has had to take care of itself. Normally this is a time for gradual preparation for spring and summer, but right now we're looking at a hell of a mess. I know this wasn't a big news event, but it sure had an impact on us.

It remains to be seen how the drought will affect us. We don't rely on water from the government water projects. We rely on Hat Creek and our supplies depend on flow and how well it holds up.

But nobody anticipates our water supply will be good. Last year, our flows got pretty low and we had to drop some irrigated acres because we didn't have the water. We figure it will be the same and hope it won't be worse.

By Dave Roberti, Sierra County rancher

Like most of the state, everything is about two months early, it seems. We got probably 80 percent of our farming done in January and February, which we aren't supposed to be able to do. It is supposed to be frozen solid about then. Instead, most of it is already planted and most of our farming is already completed for the year.

Our spring cows are calving now and getting them on the ground. Other than that we are working on our farm equipment, getting prepared for springtime and summer harvest. Most of our planting is dryland grain crops and we will do some alfalfa planting a little later on after the frost season is over. Everything we grow will be for feeding our own cattle.

We've reduced our herd pretty heavily over the last couple years, just because of the lack of feed. Our feed conditions are looking really poorly again this year with the lack of water, so we are just kind of waiting to see with the herd, but our feed conditions at this point are not looking good.

Beef prices have been good the past couple years. They have backed off a little bit from the highs but are still good, and so we are happy with that.

One of our big concerns, like the rest of the state, is water. Our allocations from the reservoir that we get out of from DWR, last year we received about 40 percent and right now it looks like we won't be receiving anything this year, so we will be using our deep wells.

By Cio Perez, Napa County winegrape grower

Like other areas of the state, we are trying to put together a plan as far as groundwater in the county. Actually, we are having a lot of good luck in terms of working with our county staff in regards to getting it put together and it being based on facts, and not necessarily guesses.

The other thing we have been working on is the winery definition ordinance that the county has had in place since 1990. We are looking at possible revisions of that because of the situation we are having with an increase in small winery permit applications and having to deal with the level of visitation and marketing events that are occurring. A lot of the communities within our county are getting somewhat upset with the amount of traffic that is generated, as well as late night events and other things that really aren't related directly to the wine but are becoming events that are being called ticket sales and not wine sales.

A lot of us are wrapping up our pruning and getting our trellis systems back up with where they need to be with regard to repairs. A lot of us are getting antsy as far as getting a good start on our cultivation that we do in our vineyards, whether it be going through and mowing with non-tillage or to include some sort of disking or rototilling that turns the ground.

By Mike Vereschagin, Glenn County orchardist

We are out of the almond bloom season and the crop is looking quite well at this point in time. We got by with minimal spraying of fungicides during bloom time. The weather was good and we had good overlap on bloom of the various varieties for pollination, so the crop is looking pretty good.

Right now we are in the middle of our prune bloom, right at peak, and it is a heavy bloom. Last year we had one of the worst crops that we ever had in our county, but this year it is starting well and so far the temperatures have stayed below that critical temperature of 80 degrees. If it gets over 80 degrees during bloom, there is flower mortality where the prunes won't set.

Of course, water is on everyone's mind. We've been irrigating the past couple weeks. Groundwater levels have recovered some from last year, but what we are seeing when we turned the wells on is that they are not producing the way we expected at this point in the season. So water is a big concern. We are putting down a couple new wells this spring because of the drought situation, and hopefully there will be water available to purchase from some of the settlement-type contractors. We know we will be paying for it, but we need it to survive.

We are seeing new plantings all over the county. We removed a couple of old orchards and we are preparing ground and getting the irrigation set for some new plantings. Luckily, I have a couple of young orchards that we just put in that will reduce our water demand and that will help to a certain degree.

By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery grower

Poinsettias sold well during the Christmas season, but now people's attention has turned to water so some people are hesitant to buy plants because they are being told to save water. As a result, they are not buying as many flowering plants and are letting their gardens go dry. There's nothing that we can do.

It is incredible how many fewer plants are being sold now compared to 10 years ago. And I am concerned that many people's attention is focused on things other than gardening.

For those people who are buying plants, we just finished with the primroses and the pansies, and now we're coming along with the spring plants, the marigolds, lilies, ranunculus, and we've got a beautiful crop of hydrangeas in bloom in pink and purple, and they are just so gorgeous.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

After a good start to our rain season, we've seen less than 1.5 inches of rain since the middle of December. The hope in December was that with saturated soils, the subsequent rainfall would replenish the underground aquifer. That is not happening, so now we face a fourth consecutive drought year and an even worse water situation than last year. Plans are already being made to fallow more ground than last year.

On the production side of things, the dry weather has allowed everyone to stay on their planting schedule and an extremely warm January sped up maturation of the crops by as much as three weeks. This, along with reduced demand on the East Coast due to weather problems, has resulted in abundant supplies and lower than normal prices.

Unless there is a natural disaster in one of the main growing areas, supplies should remain consistent until the effects of the ground fallowing kicks in. This may occur around early summer if rumors of fallowing come to fruition.

On the brighter side, less ground in production may help to slightly alleviate the shortage of labor and also increase prices for those who have enough water for crop production. Only time will tell.