From the Fields® - December 16, 2015

By Adam Boles, Glenn County diversified grower

It's busy in Glenn County these days. Orchard crops like walnuts and almonds and some prunes are being pruned and we're putting the trees to bed for the wintertime. Grain and hay crops are getting scratched into the ground and it is nice to see a few rainstorms; we're all hoping for more, obviously. Rice fields have all been semi-decomped or as best they could. You hear the birds at night flying in for the winter. We're seeing more and more of them in the fields with the colder weather.

The snowpack is the money in the bank, so to speak. The lakes are all at their historically low levels, so Mother Nature has got a lot of catching up to do. We'll stay optimistic. We've picked ourselves up off of the canvas here two or three times, so hopefully there is one more go-round in there. We've got our fingers crossed. We're waiting to enjoy the holidays and we're looking forward to a Happy New Year.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

It has been a wild ride in 2015 for my operation. Last year ended with record high prices for my grain hay, and admittedly lower than average quality.

For the first time in many years, I started this year's harvest with hundreds of tons of carryover, as the market dried up at those high prices. The market was literally dead, regardless of price.

This year's crop was notably better quality and lower volume, with a substantial reduction in price. I was able to sell the carryover hay at erosion-control prices.

One might think that since my land has no irrigation, the crops would be devastated by the drought. To the contrary, what little rain we received in 2014 came at just the right time, and we had a large crop. With an additional 11 inches of rain in 2015, but without the optimal timing, we got a smaller crop.

I am concerned with all the hype being given to the El Niño situation. I'm not sure if the media is trying to inform people, scare them or just sell more issues, but the predicted torrential downpours won't help the crops already planted, the people, the aquifers, the environment or the snowpack.

If we had the infrastructure, particularly more storage, we could make much better use of rainfall. The way things are today, much of this water goes to waste, and in fact damages the situation.

By John Pierson, Solano County beef producer

We're hoping that we'll get some rain; they are saying we are going to get an inch or so in the valley, so we'll see. The grass is short and sprouted, so this would definitely help out.

The animals are doing fine. We have beef cattle and the calves were all calved out for about 60 days. We are in the purebred business, so we're looking at the bull market. We sent 12 back to Texas on a feed test and they will be sold in March. But the prices have been great back there on purebred bulls.

We just hope the weather we need comes along and the grass comes like we expect. Last year, we ended up getting good grass but we didn't have a lot of extra water in the hills. Maybe we'll get the opposite this year, but we'll see how it goes. The locals were saying there is more snow now than there was a year ago, so we've got a long winter ahead.

By Jonnalee Henderson, Colusa County nut grower

We were happy to see the recent rains and even though the ground is still wet, we have been able to get into the almond orchards to do some pruning and winter maintenance. As soon as the ground dries out, we will be applying some pre-emergent weed controls to prevent weeds from growing in the strips.

We are just about ready to start our winter sanitation program where we go through all the ranches and remove mummies, which are the leftover nuts that didn’t come off the tree during harvesting and in which the navel orangeworm can overwinter.

The drought definitely affected us. We had a zero allocation for federal project water, but were able to purchase very expensive transfer water. We had to pay four times as much for water as we would have had to pay if there wasn’t a drought.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

I have heard reports from several growers that they had fantastic rice yields in 2015, and I had the same experience. Mother Nature didn't provide all the precipitation we needed last winter to put all of our acres into production, but she was kind to us for those acres we did get planted. The crop didn't lodge, harvest went off without a hitch, and we were done before we knew it because of the reduced acres.

Unfortunately, the lack of water has kept many of us from being able to re-flood some or all of our fields to aid with straw decomposition. That doesn't bode well for waterfowl, which are now concentrated on fewer acres than is the norm for this time of year. I'm told that increases the chances for disease outbreaks. Hopefully, it will start raining like heck very soon so that both the birds and the growers will be happy.

Marketing the crop we just harvested is off to a slow start. There is not much grower interest in selling at the prices that are currently being offered. We will know a lot more by the end of December, at which point two Japanese and six Korean tenders will have taken place. I think the results of those tenders will set the tone for our price expectations for the 2015 California rice crop.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Right now, we are hoping for rain—that is key—so that we have enough water for the upcoming year. In a couple of weeks we'll start pruning, and it usually takes us about three months to cover everything, so it is a long process. Hopefully, the labor supply is sufficient. One thing with the grapes, our labor supply is typically better in the winter months because we are not competing with the harvest of other commodities, so that is an advantage.

Probably the biggest issue that we have right now in agriculture is with the groundwater sustainability act and making sure that agriculture has a voice at the table when it comes to groundwater and surface water in the future. We really need to get the Farm Bureau and farmers and ranchers involved with a seat at the table.

By Steve Bontadelli, San Mateo County Brussels sprouts grower

We're about 80 percent done with our harvest. We've started shipping into western Canada because their local supplies have finally petered out. Quality is excellent, but yields are on the small side. The sprouts themselves are smaller. Everyone was fighting the same problem with sizing. But that means consumers are getting more for their dollar and they're better-tasting sprouts.

We're constantly looking at new hybrid varieties to maintain production and maintain the crop values we're looking for. There are a couple of newcomer varieties that will probably be planted in the future.

Prices this year have been astronomically high. Almost every restaurant is featuring a dish with Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts have become trendy and there has been a tremendous increase in planted acres. Now farmers are growing them in the Salinas Valley, in Ventura and San Diego, and thousands of acres are being planted in Baja. Brussels sprouts used to be seasonal, with holiday spikes, but in recent years we've been selling them almost year-round.