From the Fields® - February 3, 2016

By Wayne Vineyard, Placer County rice and cattle producer

Recent rains have the pasture growing and the ponds full of water for the livestock. The only challenge is finding dry spots to feed hay to the cattle. Cattle prices are down from a year ago, but still very good.

Our cattle calved out quickly this fall and a dry spell near Christmas gave us two different days to process the calves, with the help of family members.

The outlook for summer water looks promising, with good snowpack so far. We received 100 percent of our water last year and it should be the same for this year.

The rice harvest went well—no delays—and we were able to bale the straw and flood the fields. Rainfall has kept them flooded, which helps rot the stubble. We'll start to drain the fields near the end of February.

The dam where we get the water for the rice crop started spilling this week, so that water should be ample for this year's crop.

Activities this time of year are the usual for most farmers—taking care of the cows and working on equipment to be ready for planting time. There also have been several growers' meetings for the rice industry to attend. It is important to keep informed.

By Joe Martinez, Solano County tree crop farmer

We're doing winter sanitation in our almonds—knocking mummies off the trees.It's too wet in the orchards to get in with shakers so we're hand pulling. In the nonpareil, the buds are showing white tips,º which means it might be 10 days to two weeks to bloom. That's early.

We've had plenty of winter chill. The bees are in and ready to work. We are fortunate to have enough hives. But it's impossible to tell this early what the crop might be like, because so much can happen between bloom and nut set. We'll have some idea based on the strength of bloom.

In the rest of the crops—walnuts, prunes, pistachios—we've been pruning between the storms. We didn't want to prune during the rainy season, but with labor availability, that's the only choice we have to get it done.

We're also doing weed control and repairing equipment. We've got an entire list of equipment to go through in the shop to get it ready for next year.

We're not sure how good the summer water supply will be. We're checking well levels to see if the levels have come up. Lake Berryessa is now about half full, but it will take 70 inches of rain this season to refill the lake completely. I don't think that's going to happen.

In our area, we've gotten 8.8 inches of rain so far; average is about 12 inches, so we're still behind.

By Valeri Strachan-Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

It's almost spring and beekeepers are going through their hives in preparation for almond bloom and checking their condition. Across the country there are again reports of high bee losses. Why? Researchers are now blaming viruses and pathogens, as well as the varroa mites.

We contracted with a beekeeper to bring in hives for us and he's down 70 percent. Now, I'm scrambling to find bees for our contracts. That's not fun at this time of year.

Our efforts to build bees and strengthen colonies by requeening, treating and feeding an enormous amount of protein supplements and tanker loads of liquid sugar seem at times to be a waste of labor and money, when a hive that was 14 frames ends up being four frames come Feb. 1.

I don't speak only for myself in this situation. It's all apiarists, whether commercial beekeepers, sideliners or hobbyists.

With demand for bees in almonds up, we see an increase in theft and pollination price fluctuation.

The bright side of 2016 is that it looks like we'll have the moisture we desperately need in California. We'll look forward to better forage and perhaps a bit of honey in the hives.

Beekeepers are resourceful. We'll do our best to replenish and restore. But a few will decide it's too difficult and sell out.

My advice to farmers who rely on honeybees or those who enjoy eating honey or pollinated food like apples, almonds, cherries, squash, melons and cucumbers, is to make an effort to plant bee-friendly hedgerows and maybe give a beekeeper room on your property to store some hives.

By April Mackie , Monterey County agricultural consultant

Despite the benefits of El Niño this season, the Salinas Valley hasn't been quite as fortunate in receiving the big storms that have been so prolific in Northern California. It seems as though the rains are just missing us this year.

However, the small amount of rain we've received has been helpful and we've seen a few streams and rivers flowing once again. We're hoping storms move in our direction into the spring.

Growers who were in Yuma for the winter are slowly starting to make their way back to the Salinas Valley. They're implementing planting schedules for the spring harvest—putting in transplants of broccoli, cauliflower and many other crops.

Strawberries were planted back in December, and as I drive around the Salinas and Pajaro growing areas I can see the transplants peeking their heads out of the plastic.

Despite the constant rotation of crops in the valley, growers here are also dealing with the constant headaches of overregulation.

There are huge battles going on in our area right now related to formation of groundwater management agencies, access to more water resources, cleaning out the overgrowth in the Salinas River and, once again, it's the time of year to readdress the Central Coast ag discharge waiver.

It's also time to start updating food safety plans in preparation for third-party audits—Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and private party.

So, unlike farmers and ranchers in other parts of the state experiencing an El Niño winter and now having time to work on equipment in preparation for the coming year, growers in the Salinas Valley are in the fields and offices, busier than ever.

It's sad that this is what it has come to—there is no "offseason" due to the demands of regulatory compliance. But, with an ever increasing population and demand for safe fruits and vegetables, we'll continue to find ways to deal with the burdens and continue to be proud to claim that "My Job Depends on Ag!"

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified farmer

We are working as much as we can between rainfalls, which has been nice to see for a change. The garlic looks very good, as do the garbanzo beans that were planted early. The wheat is looking pretty good too. It is about four inches high right now. It is always nice to see rainfall rather than irrigation to bring the wheat up. Rainfall doesn't have much salt, and the wheat really responds to rainfall.

There is a lot going on around here right now. Bees will be coming into almonds throughout the region in the next week or so. We are pruning pistachios as well as some of our winegrapes. Tomato seeds are being delivered to the transplant folks, and later on we will be planting those.

We did fallow some of our fields in 2015 and we will be doing it again this year. The primary reason for fallowing is because of the inability of getting water deliveries. This will be a year when we will probably have above-normal rainfall, but with the reservoirs being so empty, it is going to take a while for them to fill up before there is any overage.

Unless we stay pretty wet, water deliveries will be a big challenge.