From the Fields® - March 2, 2016

By Aaron Lange, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Lodi winegrape growers are taking advantage of the current dry spell to surge ahead on winter weed control and pruning. The availability of skilled pruning labor has been very tight and competitive. Recent legislation (AB 1513) has increased administrative burdens on employing piece-rate pay systems, which has driven some farmers to pay more to attract hourly pruning crews in Lodi, significantly increasing per acre pruning costs.

We did see some vineyards being pushed over this year in Lodi—most of which are going back into winegrapes—but I heard a few are replanting with trees in select areas. The big question is, how will the smaller crop in 2015 (3.86 million tons), vineyard removals and new-bearing acres affect the 2016 market?

Regulatory compliance has become more and more time consuming as we grapple with nitrogen plans, soil erosion plans, farm evaluations and water diversion reports to comply with our local water coalition and State Water Resources Control Board requirements. We are working closely with our local and state advocacy organizations (Farm Bureau, California Association of Winegrape Growers) to keep our eye on new changes to regulations, like OSHA's nighttime illumination standards, that can have a huge impact on our nighttime farming operations.

By Jim Morris, Siskiyou County diversified grower

We've had a heck of a rainfall and snowfall year up to this point. The mountains are white and I will never again complain about mud. We've decided mud is a good thing.

One of the interesting things going on in our valley and in our ranch is that we applied for and received a groundwater recharge permit, so we're working in cooperation with the University of California, Davis, to understand how using our irrigation infrastructure—our ditches—can impact late summer flows in the Scott River by putting water out using existing infrastructure. It's extraordinary. It may be a way to benefit downstream neighbors, other resource users and decrease the size of the target that is on our back, so that is going on.

We're looking at a few warm days ahead of us and things are starting to green up. I have wrapped up calving and just about done lambing. Fertilization in spring will happen on hay fields and pastures in the next week to month.

Our hay barns are still way too full, the price of hay is way down and the price of calves is off, and things are stagnant right now. But we are looking forward to better times.

By Roger Everett, Tulare County citrus grower and beekeeper

With the warm weather we really saw a rush in bloom and with the warm weather we are experiencing this week, we anticipate that almond pollination will be over soon.

Our winter bee losses are looking to be about 40 percent this year. For winter expenses, you have August to December expenses tied up in these hives and the bees, for whatever reason, succumbed, so we try to recoup and move on. We're continuing to prep for replacing our lost hives over the winter, and anticipate moving out of the almonds sometime next week to hopefully greener pastures with some wet weather. But it hasn't stayed wet long enough to be too promising.

I placed bees into the almonds in Tulare and Kern counties this year. I'd put pollination as one of the faster that I've experienced. We went in one week with about 10 percent bloom on a Monday, to 75 or 80 percent bloom by Thursday of that same week. It was just a tremendous explosion.

We haven't had to put water out for bees yet this year because we've had a few storms come through. Pre-bloom and during the bloom, we had a storm so there were some puddles that provided water for the bees. In a few places, growers put out buckets with some water to help keep the bees in the orchards. That is a new trend I'm seeing. I'm sure the Almond Board has been involved in that.

For our efforts, once almond pollination is over, we will take the bees and put them back into our citrus yards and wait to see how citrus bloom is going to go.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County vegetable grower

El Niño really hasn't shown up yet. We're about 60 percent over last year's rainfall total, but we're only about 60 percent of average, so with every passing day it doesn't look like we're going to have average rainfall.

Up until about three weeks ago, the markets were pretty good. But you start to get the summer-like weather and so that brought on a lot of crops where the supplies are plentiful and the markets have gone down. Right now, with the dry period, we're able to work up our ground, get ground ready for planting and pretty much stay on a planting schedule.

It doesn't look like there will be market spikes during the springtime, depending on the weather. If we get some bad weather that causes some problems, you might see the markets spike.

We are constantly evaluating our planting plans. We had a schedule figured out for a wet winter, but since that hasn't really materialized, we're trying to figure out how to change things going forward. We did cut back a little bit from last year, especially because we're figuring for a wet winter and not being able to get into some fields, but that hasn't happened.

In our growing area, we harvest things year-round. We have broccoli, spinach, cilantro, parsley, Chinese napa cabbage, bok choy and baby bok choy, as well as some red cabbage that we're harvesting, not in large supply, but we have a little bit to keep our workforce busy.

We are anticipating that labor is going to be tight again this year so we are going to be using some H-2A labor to supplement our regular workforce. We started it last year, and we're going to expand that a little bit this year.

By Mark Watte, Tulare County diversified grower

If we ever have an offseason, this is it. My brother and I are very involved in World Ag Expo, and that's behind us now. We are continuing to work in the young orchards, adding to the irrigation systems or adjusting the irrigation systems. We have sprayed all of our alfalfa for weevil and we are about to begin our second irrigation on the wheat that we have planted.

We are finishing up the pre-irrigation on the acreage that is going to go into cotton. Cotton acreage will probably be up a little bit here in Tulare County and maybe some other areas, depending on the rain that we get.

All of our land is in two irrigation districts that historically have been very good districts. But if we don't get any more snow than we have now, our biggest acreage is in the Friant system and it isn't looking like we are going to get much out of that this year.

We have repaired wells, drilled new wells and got them all in good shape. We are hoping we get some more snow, but if we don't, we feel we are well situated to get through another summer with a minimum of fallowed acreage. It isn't looking very promising at this point. For the period of storminess that we had, it was really disappointing the amount of snow that we got out of it. There was storm after storm that would hit the northern part of the state and here in the central part, we would get a sprinkle or two. It has been an absolute struggle.

Dairying continues to be unprofitable. We milk about 1,000 Jersey cows, and that is a real struggle for us right now. It is definitely below the cost of production. The price of the commodities that we sell is low, so that aspect of our farming operation is looking not so good.