From the Fields® - December 7, 2016

By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer

We started out with some pretty good rain with some storms coming through. There is green grass poking out of the hills now; so far so good for the start of the grass season. We are still looking for better cattle prices. They picked up a little bit over the past month, but there are still going to be concerns over how this is going to carry out when we get into our main marketing season into May. Our fall-born calves will go in May. So there is some consternation over where prices are going to be. If we can get some good gains this year on the production side of it, we are going in the right direction. Hopefully, we will get prices to cooperate with us.

Whether people are building their herds kind of depends on whether they have the feed or not. The prices have been pretty tough lately. We aren't getting the money we got previously for cull cows and cull bulls. So people get a little bit reluctant. But I have always been taught that when you get into a down market, that is when you hold your heifers back. I think people are doing that a little bit. We are seeing the herds get built back up, and I think that is translating into the prices that we have now.

Cows have cheapened up. Cows that were pushing $3,000 a year and a half ago are $1,100 to $1,500 now. So it is a different deal right now. We are in a different part of the cycle.

By Mike Vukelich, Contra Costa County nursery producer

This has been a pretty good year for our growers. We had a really bad year in 2015, and it was mostly because everybody was saying they didn't have any water. All our own facilities had water because we have wells, so we don't have any trouble growing the plants, but consumers thought they didn't have much water. We grew a lot of plants for 2015, and we had to dump a tremendous portion of the plants.

In 2016, we did good with our six-packs. The chrysanthemum season was good in the fall. We did very good with the cyclamens. All the poinsettias turned out really good. We grew as many as we have room for. We started shipping them around the 10th of November and will continue shipping them through the 10th of December. People seem to want the poinsettias. We've got at least 12 or more different varieties and colors, but mostly what's sold is red. We sell at least 80 percent of them and probably 15 to 20 percent of the other colors. We'll see some at the CFBF annual convention. They really make a nice show for everyone to see.

Something different this year is that we grew an awful lot of succulents, because there was a market for them. We're going to grow a lot next year. Hopefully, we're not going to flood the market. The thing about succulents is that they don't die; they just keep on going because they're tougher plants. Another thing that was special this past year is there was a market for perennials. There are many new varieties and they're really beautiful.

We do our own delivering, and there are a lot more restrictions and regulations every year. It gets more and more difficult to deliver the plants, and we deliver millions of plants. The stores have to have plants in stock every day, so we have crops maturing every week all year long. With the new restrictions on what the drivers can do, what reports they have to do, it's getting tougher to deliver. We're lucky that the fuel cost is stable because we have so many trucks and they require a lot of fuel.

The big thing in 2016 was we grew fewer plants and we were able to sell all the plants we grew. In 2015, we grew a lot more plants, but we had to dump millions and millions of plants that we couldn't sell. We're looking to do the same next year as we did in 2016. We're just looking to be careful with what we grow, because we need to sell what we grow.

By John Amaro, Glenn County rice farmer

Right now we're making sure all the fields are regulated with our decomp water. With all the rains that we've had lately, it's just the opposite of what we had at the beginning of the season. So we're trying to get everything done properly there. We shot way down as far as our water usage. Usually, we have to have a little bit of water going into the fields until probably December. Half of our fields we have pretty much shut off because we've gotten such a good amount of rain through October and November.

We're starting on our equipment maintenance plans for next year. Of course, with the lower commodity prices, that's a little bit more of a challenge. We're trying to be very economical and plan better as far as what we're going to do and looking into our maintenance records a little bit more just to see what we can do and what we don't need to do, maybe put off for a year. In another month or so, we'll probably start our financial planning.

The winter looks good as far as our water supply so far. Of course, we have a long way to go. The reservoirs are a little bit above average. That's all good, but we have a long winter to go yet before we can feel a little bit of a relief.

The biggest challenge for everybody, not just rice, is the commodity prices being so low. We're pretty much all rice, and so it's a big struggle to plan financially for next year. I'm sure there'll be some young farmers that might have a little bit of a tough time getting loans next year.

By Leonard Souza, Kings County walnut and corn farmer

We're pruning the walnuts. We're putting the pre-emergence and post-emergence on the berms on the walnut trees. We're doing sanitation as far as getting under the walnut trees and destroying the walnuts that are left in the orchard after harvest. We're actually irrigating right now. It's our after-harvest winter irrigation. We've hardly gotten any rain. We try to get our deep moisture in the orchard for next summer, to have the trees hydrated so they don't get frost damage if it gets real cold in the wintertime. I have fertilizer on the trees.

We're concerned about the price on walnuts. They're docking us real hard on the color of the meats of the walnuts, and that affects the price. They found out the dark meat is a little harder to sell, so they really discount the nut. And usually the variety with the lower value is the Serr because of the color. So a lot of people are pulling their Serrs out, and some of these older varieties that tend to have darker meat. The darker meat, I think, actually tastes better and has more oil.

Farmers are now planting a new variety that's only been out a few years; it's called Ivanhoe. The Chandler is a light nut and it does real well. The other one that's kind of on the fence is the Tulare. Some years it's light and some years it's darker. It depends on the area, too, because here in the valley, we get more heat and it has the tendency to cause the meat to be a little darker.

I've been trying to decide what to pull out or whether to give them another year or what. I may try a few different things first, because it costs a lot of money to pull an orchard out and some of these trees aren't that old. My trees are only about 20 years old and I don't feel like pulling them out yet. But it makes a difference in price—20 to 30 cents a pound, if not more.

On the corn ground, we've ripped it and it's just sitting fallow right now until we get ready to plant. We'll put beds up and we'll work the beds. Then we'll pre-irrigate probably in late February and March, and we'll plant the first of April.

The corn market is down. The silage market is down. I think a lot of people are going to plant cotton to get away from the cheap corn and silage prices; that's what I've been hearing. Corn takes a little bit more water than cotton, so that's another factor involved. But I'm going to plant corn because I've got the same amount of ground and I don't think it justifies growing a different crop. I like to plant the same things. My equipment is all set up for that. The other thing is, if a lot of people are planting cotton, maybe the corn market will come up, because these cows still need to eat silage. But I plant a variety that I can either go grain or silage.