From the Fields® - July 8, 2015

By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County diversified grower

Some areas of the county have had surface water rights curtailed and people have switched to groundwater or have let things dry. You can put a small amount of water everywhere, and that is rarely effective, so what we do is allow some fields to dry up and manage the ones that we can irrigate as well as we can. We are finding ways to get by as best we can.

In Siskiyou County right now, the first cutting of hay has mostly taken place. Due to late spring rains, harvest was delayed and yields are heavy. Hay quality is off slightly, but yields are extremely good. Commodity prices seemed to have softened to a degree. Inputs on hay ground are high, but it looks like the price will be a little softer this year.

With livestock, the cattle prices seem to be very strong. The range feed in the high mountains looks good, but because of the lack of snowpack that feed may run out earlier than normal. When that happens, the cows come home and we go out on fields that would otherwise be hay. What we do right now is utilize the feed that we have. Our livestock numbers are down about as far as we want to go. I'm cutting back on sheep numbers a little, but if it gets wet next year, we've got to be ready to go.

We are experiencing some record high temperatures and we are forecast to receive more record high temperatures. We're absolutely hoping for some thunderstorms and some rain to provide a little relief from the heat and the water situation.

By Roger Everett, Tulare County citrus grower and beekeeper

We're definitely feeling the impact from the drought. We're doing our summer pollination work. We do some watermelons and cantaloupes, but their acreage is way down; they just don't have water to spare for those field crops. There are alfalfa fields that are getting very little irrigation, which means the fields are getting too dry to put out nectar for the bees. Cotton acreage is also way down.

At some of our bee locations in the valley, we've always relied on the nearby ditches carrying water as a water source. But those ditches are dry, so bees are seeking other sources of water such as at people's houses or places that could cause problems. We're actually having to put out barrels and totes of water to try to keep them out of those areas. We've had to put water out for the bees in places where we've never put water before. Because it's been so dry, we've also sent some bees out of state.

As for my citrus: Out of 75 acres, right now we're irrigating 16 acres. We thought our district had secured water for another 20 acres, but that water seems to be tied up in the Shasta decision for the temperature releases for the fish. The trees are doing all right for now. We did get a shot of irrigation to them, but then we had to stop irrigating. We have another 20 acres that we decided that it just wasn't worth the money to justify putting water on them. The 15 citrus acres that we are still irrigating are lemons.

In the area where I keep bees in Tulare County, I know one person who has lost four wells in the last three months and another guy who has three wells that are surging and probably five or six people who are trying to put in more wells to help their problems, so it's not great. But some guys are doing better than others.

By April Mackie, Monterey County vegetable grower

It's that time of year, when agriculture on the Central Coast is in full swing. Crops are growing, harvest is taking place and second plantings are going in the ground and starting to pop. Strawberries are doing excellent this season, with our crops being one month early due to the mild winter. The real test is to see if the berries will continue to stay strong and healthy all through the year, or will they start to die off a month early? We shall wait and see.

Vegetable crops continue to do well and many growers are experiencing healthy harvests. On the Central Coast, water availability is on the front of our minds; however, we haven't seen the adverse effects of the drought like those in the Central Valley. The only major side effect of the drought we have seen is increased salinity levels at the root zone. The natural rains are what really helps infiltrate those salts below the root zone.

We are continuing to plant and grow on the same ground as we have in the past and in fact, due to high market demands, we are even planting on new ground as well.

Many challenging regulations have arisen in the past few months. Paid sick leave is a huge cost to us as a grower and farm labor contractor, along with the recent increase in minimum wage. The increased heat stress regulations have pushed us to invest and design shade structures so that 100 percent of our employees will have access to shade on days when the temperatures are above 80 degrees. Let's just hope that the crops pull us through an extra month; we will need the profits to offset the increased regulatory costs.

By George Tibbitts, Yolo County rice grower

For California rice producers, the 2015 planting season began with great uncertainty. The biggest question was not whether or not our water allocation would be cut, but by how much. Finally, in mid-to-late April (planting time), we learned that most of us would have a 75 percent water supply. Some producers had even steeper cuts. Bottom line, the 2015 California rice crop now looks to be around 385,000 acres, down from the 500,000-plus that was the norm in the pre-drought years.

Now that we are into July, we've learned that our 75 percent water supply could be curtailed further due to water temperature considerations in Shasta Lake. Our water districts are scrambling to come up with a plan to somehow meet our irrigation needs, the salmon needs, and water quality (salinity) needs in the delta. While more groundwater pumping may help (not sustainable in the long run), I fear that we are not going to get through this summer without more cuts all around.

Meanwhile, while one might think that the market price for California rice would be skyrocketing due to the drought, that is not the case. While there is no surplus of medium-grain rice in the world (the kind we produce here), there is a surplus of long-grain rice. Some of our normal worldwide customers are switching to the cheaper long grain, which in many cases is subsidized heavily—tough to compete against that. Also, some consumers are switching to medium grain produced in the southern U.S. (much inferior in quality to our California product, but cheaper).

By Mat Conant, Sutter County walnut farmer

In our district, we are getting about 1 acre-foot of district water, which is less than half of what we get in a good year. Normally, we get close to 2 acre-feet. Traditionally, we irrigate with a combination of groundwater and district water. I tested one of my wells the other day and the water level was at 47 feet, which is down 5 to 10 feet from the same time last year.

The problem a lot of people are having right now is that they are pumping a lot more sand from their wells. With drip irrigation and microsprinklers, sand really plays havoc. As a result, a lot of people are being forced to put in sand media filters. This is a huge investment for what we are all hoping is a one-year deal. Hopefully, this drought won't go on much longer.

This is the time of year when we are irrigating and getting ready to spray for husk fly and other pests. This is a little slower time for some of us before the harvest season starts.

The crop looks fantastic. It is very clean. I think the crop is going to be big. I think we will exceed 600,000 tons statewide.