From the Fields® - March 16, 2016

By Cio Perez, Napa County winegrape grower

In Napa County, we are happy to see that we've got some nice rains coming in and things are beginning to look normal with regard to the water. We're looking forward to a good season in general as far as the crop, but of course that all depends on the weather that we get from now until the time we harvest.

We've been fortunate in regard to the level of rain we've gotten, with enough break in between so that flooding hasn't been an issue overall. The recent rains brought the levels of the rivers and creeks up quite a bit, but not to the flood stage. At this time of year, we're not doing much with equipment, tractors and that sort; most of it is walking in and doing a lot by hand.

Because of the way that the earlier rains came through, we've got some good grasses and ground covers so erosion really hasn't been much of a big deal. 

We are continually dealing locally with land-use issues as well as every county throughout California.

More recently, we've heard about a high incidence of Pierce's disease in the Napa area, which has always been a problem I think because of the weather we've been having. It just showed up to be a little bit more intense this last year, so that is always something that we need to watch. With more time and more research, we are hoping that there is a solution to that problem on a permanent basis.

By Richard Gonzales , San Luis Obispo County cattle rancher and walnut grower

In the western part of the county, we had some terrific rains. Where I'm at, we had 5 inches of rain. We're finally starting to see the ground saturated; reservoirs and ponds are starting to gain some water. That warm February gave the grass a real head start and now the cows are getting fat—it's wonderful.

We're all done calving; we finished branding, and now it's time for some good strong grass to come on. The mamas are producing milk and the calves are growing. The markets are way off from where they were last year. Hopefully, by the time it is time for us to sell late in the spring, those markets will improve.

With the organic walnuts, we did fairly well. It was a big range from one end to the other depending on the quality, but the prices were fairly strong for certified organic nuts. The trees are dormant right now, but they really need this rain. We need to get this moisture back.

By Janet Kister, San Diego County nursery producer

Spring sales of plants are starting to break loose and we're ready. The extended period of high heat over the past weeks has pushed along some inventories of plants that were lagging behind due to earlier cold temperatures. It also caused other varieties to come in early, so now we have no lack of product to ship. I don't know if the 80 degree-plus temperatures in February and early March we experienced are unseasonable, as this seems to be a recurring phenomenon every year. Our new normal is total unpredictability.

Although we've had no rainfall the last few weeks, San Diego is still slightly ahead for the year. We are delighted that the March forecast is for "a conveyor belt of storms" to hit this region.  That prompts an interesting and very welcome visual.

Additionally, we have up to 50 million gallons a day capacity of desalinated water available when we need it from a local plant that opened in December.  This facility will produce up to 10 percent of our regional water supply needs and reduce the amount of water to be imported from Northern California. This new source of water, though expensive, is an investment that the ratepayers made to ensure water reliability and to hedge against draconian cuts during droughts.

By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County alfalfa grower

We are finishing up a very busy produce season. It was a fast season that starts in mid-December and finishes up in early March. We are mainly in the salad crops—lettuces and spinach, red leaf, green leaf and mixed leaf, as well as cauliflower and broccoli. We are getting ready to plant our melons—watermelons, cantaloupes and all the specialty melons. Also, a lot of peppers are planted. In the winter, most of the salad crops produced in the United States come from Imperial County.

We are on our second cutting of alfalfa. Trying to dodge the rains during this El Niño year has been a bit challenging. We are in a dry, desert region and we typically get very little rain. But this March we have already had more than a half-inch of rain, and that is challenging for us hay producers who are trying to get our hay to market.

The hay market started out really slow and sluggish with the strong American dollar and the weak foreign economy, mainly in China and the Pacific. But these cheaper prices have brought a few more companies coming in looking to buy our hay, so it has picked up in the last two or three weeks. The hay prices are around $200 a ton for the hay that is coming off now.

The challenges will continue this year with the dairy sector being down. We need that segment to recover to keep our hay business alive and well in the Imperial Valley. Other than that, we are just surviving the typical cycles that are a part of agriculture.

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County turkey and walnut producer

Our turkeys are doing very well.  The weather has been ideal.  Weights are good.  We are happy with the feed conversions and weight gains. We see the organic turkeys really taking off and selling well. The cost of those to the consumer is higher, but consumers are willing to pay for that higher value.

As a contract grower, I don't see the feed costs, but I am still very cognizant of what it costs to put a pound through the processing plant.

Our new planting of walnuts in May has emerged; some of it a little early. Hopefully, we don't get water up into the orchard and have our trees under water. But I think we are OK. It all looks to be pretty good with some of our other trees that had dormancy issues last year. They appear to be coming out and doing very well.

By Jennifer Clarke, Monterey County vegetable grower

We just had a lot of rain that we desperately needed. Harvest season is just getting started for us in the Salinas Valley.

We have started harvesting broccoli and cauliflower and we are finishing the season in Yuma, Ariz. Pretty soon, we'll be harvesting mixed lettuce, romaine, iceberg and strawberries. With this warm rain, we expect to see some mildew issues.

We're hoping that with some companies using H-2A workers, that will release some pressure for the domestic supply of workers and we will all be able to fill up our harvesting crews.