From the Fields® - June 1, 2016

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

As far as mechanization, we have been very aggressive over the last two months with all these regulations and minimum wage going up.

I am buying some leaf-pulling machines. Each machine that I buy will replace a 25-person crew for a six-week period of time. I bought other equipment that will replace my entire labor force to the tune of 5 percent during the winter months.

We are planting some new vineyards this fall that will have trellis systems that we are designing in a manner that will allow us to eliminate 80 percent of our labor. And then this winter, we are going to do a retrofit on some of our older vineyards as an experiment to see if we can retrofit those to achieve the same thing.

We machine-harvest our grapes and each one of our machine harvesters replaces 100 workers a day.

I am a farm labor contractor and yet I desperately want to do away with labor. We have been forced into that position.

We can’t just point our finger at minimum wage as the driving force. It is also the ag overtime regulations, the increase in Cal/ OSHA heat regs and much more. They are trying to do some nighttime regs, and there are just all the increases in labor laws and compliance.

This year is starting out to be another very early growing season, so we are anticipating that since we are on this pace we will have an early harvest—probably not too far off from last year. The crop looks to be average in terms of size. Right now, we are focusing on irrigation and fertilizing, and getting the crop ready to harvest. There was a little increased mildew pressure this spring. We were getting about a rain a week, which is good and we enjoyed the benefits. But is also caused us to increase the frequency for applying fungicides.

By Mike Daddow, Sutter County rice grower

We're mostly done with planting. We did all our planting regimen, which is work the dirt up so that it dries out, apply pre-plant fertilizer, and then row our fields and flood them. Our first field was planted on May 1. I've got rice that's through the water and I've got fields that are flooding. So far, things look good. We got it in about the normal time.

We did have those late rains. We had the thunderstorms come through, and they shut us down for two days. So we lost two days in the middle of the season, but we already had rice that was flooded and planted by that time. So it held it up, put a little break in the middle of the season, and then we got right back to it.

This was more of a break for my employees; they probably appreciated it. We probably would've had the rice in earlier if it was dry, but we're still well within reason of getting it in. Other than that, the stuff that's coming through the water now looks like we have a really good stand. But the weeds will show up later.

We're growing M-206 and we're also growing FRC-22, and that's a proprietary variety from Farmers Rice Cooperative. M-206 is on the early side, but not really. It's the standard, probably the No. 1 variety grown in California right now. It's a medium-grain from the Research Station up in Richvale.

We were able to plant all of the acreage we wanted, for the most part. On the last field—the problem field—we left some off of that. This is a fairly normal, typical year for us. They talk about a lot of extra acreage, but I don't think so. My guess in looking around, at least in our area, some people left ground out still because the price of rice is low right now, and I think some of those marginal fields that are on extensive well water, people said they're just not going to plant them this year. Some of those semi-problem fields that are on the fringes I noticed are not getting planted. It'll be interesting to see how the acreage turns out.

By Pat Borrelli, Merced County diversified grower

With our alfalfa, we're going to start our third cutting. The price of hay is down compared to last year. The yields are fair. It's been a trying year to put up good-quality hay, because we've had the rain that we need. We did not get any hay wet. We were all done when it came. But on some of the stuff, it got pushed down a little bit.

There are some guys around here, they've had quite a bit of their oats down that got wet and some alfalfa hay that got wet. A few weeks ago, we had almost an inch and three-quarters of rain. We had a hard time drying the hay. We had to bale some a little on the green side, just to get it out before it rained.

The cotton looks good. We were able to plant toward the later part of April. We were able to get it in and get it out before we got any more rain, so it looks really good. We're cultivating it now and getting ready to fertilize it.

We just finished planting some tomatoes. We just put the first irrigation on. They seem to be all right. The weather has been cool—below-average temperatures for this time of year. Our beans, we're just getting ready to plant them in another few days. We're just working the ground on that.

All our expenses are up—labor, parts, just across the board. But the price of all the commodities across the board is down. Milk is down, hay is down, almonds are down, almond hulls are down, oat hay is down. As long as I've been around this stuff, I've never seen where everything is down. You usually have a couple of things that are up. The dairy business is hurting, with the milk price down quite a bit.

The water situation is a little bit better for us in the Central California Irrigation District. We're able to get a little bit more water and pool it a little bit different, so that's helped out quite a bit. The district switched things around a bit to where we're able to pool some of our water together to where we're using more water right now than we will toward the end of the year. We're able to plant everything right now that we figured on planting. As far as us here in the CCID area, we're doing OK right now.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We have begun the fourth cutting of alfalfa. The quality and yields are good, but demand continues to remain weak, as the price continues to drop. The dairy industry is struggling with very low prices.

We applied our last irrigation to the garlic in mid-May, with an anticipated harvest in mid-June. The onions will continue to be irrigated as the crop finishes out. The wheat harvest will begin in early June. The wheat crop looks good, but the "proof is in the pudding." Yields never lie. The silage corn should be ready to cut in mid-June.

It seems we have had an unseasonably cool May, but very windy. We are behind by approximately four days on the year-to-date heat unit accumulation.

By John Pierson, Solano County cattle rancher

All in all, this has been a good grass season. It was a good calf crop. Our area had a pretty good grass year. The rains just seem to come at the right time, so consequently, our calves look really good.

We're getting ready to ship calves to Texas to be on a feed program. They'll be leaving here in about another 20, 25 days. We're looking to having a good year.

The hay prices are down, so it looks like we're going to be in a good situation from the cattlemen standpoint. Hay people aren't going to like it, but the cattle people will like it.

Our water in our irrigation district has been cut back. We are all allocated approximately 3.8 acre-feet. So we're dealing with that. Of course, we're dealing with the groundwater issues. This groundwater thing is going to be an issue; there's no two ways about it. But all in all, it looks like it's been a pretty good beginning.