From the Fields® - June 3, 2015

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

The month of May was unseasonably cool in the Bay Area. It was looking like our haying season was coming on early, but with four weeks of February weather in May, things have been moving slowly. Our hay is ripening slowly, the early cut hay is slow to cure, and we have just a few hours a day when it's sunny enough to bale. We have the equipment and employees all ready to go; it's kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop. If the weather turns warm, the whole crop could be ready at once and we'll have a big rush to keep up, but we've prepared as well as we can.

Last year's record hay prices are coming back to haunt us. With little pasture last year, the beef growers opted to thin their herds and capitalize on the good beef prices. My 2014 hay crop was below average quality, and I have a fair amount of carryover. This year's hay looks much nicer, but hay prices for grain hay have been falling.

The drought has created some weed-control challenges. With no irrigation, I had some areas of poor germination, and the native weeds would like to take over. A little herbicide usually takes care of this, but with no competition, the weeds will come back, maybe those late-germinating weeds. We base our farming practices on what has worked in the past. Now, with different weather patterns, we need to figure out a new strategy.

Our seasonal rainfall is actually close to average. The problem has been that it came in a couple huge spurts. Flooding followed by drought doesn't help the crop, the environment, the aquifers or anything else I can think of. I look forward to a more normal year in 2016.

By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher

In Solano County, our grass has come on pretty good. We ended up getting the rains at the right time, so we're in pretty good shape. For us in Solano County, we're fortunate we had decent rain. Lake Berryessa is about 65 percent full, so we're in decent shape for our surface water.

Our calf weaning weights were not way off. They were in good shape. In fact, some of them were a little higher than normal. We were very fortunate that way.

I talked to a fellow in southern Oregon who moves his cattle to California in the summer, and he's starting to move a large number of his cattle to pasture in Sloughhouse. So we've had pretty good luck with cattle in my area this year, because of timing of the rains.

We're going to try to get through the summer and hopefully, this fall and winter, we'll end up having a season that will be very wet. We'll have to start looking for hay, but I haven't started that at this point. We won't be supplementing hay until wintertime. We have some irrigated pasture, but the majority is dryland pasture. The cattle will be on dry pasture. We'll have enough dry matter to take us through the summer and into the fall. In the fall, we normally feed hay, which we purchase in the summer.

Ideally, it'll be nice to get storms in September and October, get some early grass. But that's once in a blue moon; that's not normal. We start to calve in August, and we'll feed hay a little bit with the new moms when they're having calves, especially if they're still on dry pasture. Then we'll feed heavier as the weather determines that. During cold days and foggy days, it takes more feed, because it takes them more energy to keep warm and content.

By Marvin Meyers, Fresno County diversified grower

Those of us who have a water supply have set a decent almond crop. However, many growers in our district are hurting for water. Supplemental water is hard to come by; if you can find some, the costs are out of sight.

Our crops look to be somewhat earlier than usual. We will probably shake at the end of July or early August. The early varieties look to have a lighter set. We've had no real insect problems as of yet, probably due to the cool weather early on. As the heat kicks in, we expect to see some mite pressure showing up. We have NOW traps out, and so far no pressure as of yet.

Our pistachios look good, as do our olive orchards in Mendota. They look about three weeks early also.

I have been through many droughts in the past 40-plus years, but this one is by far the worst I have ever seen, and in my opinion, much of our hardships are caused by the implementation of the Endangered Species Act and the mismanagement of the state water supply over the past few years.

I am not going to dwell on my frustrations of this regulatory induced drought, because my blood pressure will go up to dangerous levels and my pacemaker will go off. What has saved our almond orchards is our water banking project. I am thankful that we had the vision to complete the project when we did. We have gone solar at the project, thus saving us lots of PG&E dollars.

By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County forester

The timber industry is in full swing up here. Loggers are salvaging wood from the Rim Fire and are also doing beetle kill. Sawmills have a pretty hefty log deck and shavings mills are happy to see the wood coming in. They have a pretty good stockpile.

Cattle ranchers are shipping cows to the mountains. From what I understand, they have been getting a lot of rain up high, so we should actually be looking good as far as feed this year, which will be nice because down low there is not much feed at all due to the drought.

The last few storms have helped fill our reservoirs in Tuolumne County, so there will be irrigation water this year. We are limited, but for the few irrigators that we have in the county, they will be getting some water. So that is positive.

The apple crop is shaping up to be pretty good, and with the good weather this spring it seems like the bloom went well.

With the drought, the bee producers are struggling to get water to the bees to keep them going.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

It is shaping up to be a very early season. I am getting reports that a lot of our crops in the area are running very early this year. I attribute it to a dry spring and it was very warm during early spring. That is what got us to where we are today.

What we are hoping is for it to continue on at an early pace. An early season is always welcome because it minimizes the threat from inclement weather in the fall. From this point forward, if we could have mid-90 degree weather it would be ideal conditions for grape growing as we get closer to harvest.

We are fortunate in our area that the water is adequate. We are mostly groundwater. We recently got our wells tested. I haven't gotten the results back yet, but it is something we are very interested in. So far, talking with other growers in the area, it seems that well levels in the area have not gone down too much.

It looks like an average winegrape crop. It certainly isn't a big crop.

We are coming off a four-year cycle of a lot of vineyard development and this year we have less to develop than the past four-year average. So I think because of the success of a lot of other permanent crops, we are seeing vineyard development begin to slow down.

We are sulfuring, putting on our fungicides and starting to do some summer weed spraying. Most of our labor inputs are pretty much completed for the year, so it is just focusing on irrigation and fungicide applications and hopes for mid-90 degree weather to get us to harvest.