From the Fields® - December 21, 2016

By Jennifer Clarke, Monterey County vegetable grower

Farmers are happy to be getting some rain. It is coming in nice waves that allow for the rainwater to soak in before the next round, so we've seen no flooding or runoff on our ranches. Of course, that means the fields are muddy and we have to work around those conditions as we start planning for the 2017 season.

Lettuce planting will start after Dec. 21 when the lettuce mosaic virus host-free period ends for lettuce, endive and escarole. The Monterey County agricultural commissioner, in collaboration with CDFA, has enforced the host-free period to break disease life cycles or prevent disease establishment.

Lettuce mosaic virus is a seed-borne disease. No lettuce seed may be planted in the county unless it has been tested and found to have no more than zero virus in 30,000 seeds.

This was a tough year in Salinas. There was a lot of competition from other states and some oversupply, which led to low FOB prices. Let's pray for better market prices in 2017.

On the labor side, those of us with piece-rate operations have been very busy with AB 1513, also known as "safe harbor," which went into effect at the beginning of this year. AB 1513 added a new section to the Labor Code concerning piece-rate compensation and was designed to resolve unsettled controversies over how to compensate piece-rate workers during mandated rest and recovery periods and other work time that does not generate piece-rate earnings. This has kept our office staff buried in calculations while trying to keep up with their normal, day-to-day work.

By Dave Roberti, Sierra County rancher

We are preparing for winter. Things are starting to get cold, which is what you expect in the Sierra. We had a really good October, with lots of rain. Now the ground is starting to freeze up. It has been running about 12 to 15 degrees every morning. As of early December, there wasn't any snow on the ground, but we will be getting some soon, I'm sure.

We got a lot of fall farming done this year. Right now, we are mostly feeding cattle and taking care of our cattle operation. We are probably overstocked with cattle right now and we probably need to trim down a little bit. We always retain some heifers.

We are shipping some hay, still. We have quite a bit of hay still to ship, but fortunately it is all sold. We had a decent hay year this year. The yields were about average, but the quality of the hay tested higher. With the high test, we were able to get a high price for our hay, even though the market is down.

We didn't have any thunderstorms this year and nothing got rained on, which is very rare, especially when compared to last year, when we had about a quarter of the hay rained on. We are also doing some equipment maintenance and field work.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

We noticed that this year the crop was above average in size in some areas and below average in other areas. For us, it was below average because of the spring thunderstorms that we had, with heavy rains during bloom.

The good thing is that it is wonderful quality throughout the entire Sierra foothills region because of the lack of fall rains. We were able to get the entire crop in and it is looking like the best quality crop here since 1997. Currently, everything is in the tank and primary fermentation is complete.

We did notice with labor this year that this was the most difficult and most expensive year in memory. A lot of growers actually had crews walking off when they found places to work where the wages were a little higher.

The walnuts came in at a very bountiful size, but with smaller nuts on the trees. And with almost 12 inches of rain to date, the pastures are really lush and green for the beef producers.

By Donny Rollin, Fresno County dairy farmer

Going forward, what will the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek do to my employees? Will I have to cut way back on all of these guys in order to have cash flow? And if I do cut back their hours, can I keep them and their families or will they go somewhere else?

We are three-times-a-day milking and we are 24/7, 365 days a year. So there is not a down second in the workday. I have three crews that milk for me. Labor is always an issue, having enough people.

In the old days, I would have three or four guys coming by every week looking for work. I had people say they would do anything and that they have a family to feed and just need a job. And since about 2012, I may have a guy starting to work for me and then decide it is too much work and just walk away. There has been a really big shift in the labor force concerning what someone is willing to do.

Our guys are six days a week, so this overtime provision will have a big impact. The way I figure it is that if a guy is making $12 an hour and he's six days a week, 10 hours a day, and I go to five days, eight hours a day, that is $240 less per week for that guy to feed his family with. That's more than $900 a month less in his pocket if we have to cut back to the eight-hour workday and 40-hour workweek.

By Nick Short, Stanislaus County almond and walnut grower

Here in Stanislaus County, the almond and walnut growers are in the process of all our winter tasks. We are in full swing of pruning the trees, shredding the brush and doing any ground work that needs to be done. The temperatures have not been as cold as we would like them to be to help the trees go dormant. We have started running our rototiller in the fields that have already had the brush shredded, which helps incorporate the brush shreddings and smoothes the orchard floors.

This time of year is generally a slower time of year for the almond and walnut growers. We are servicing all our equipment and doing general cleanup around the farms. We have seen a decent amount of rain, which has helped the local dairy farmers and others that have winter crops that rely on the precipitation.

By Valeri Strachan-Severson, Sutter County beekeeper

Most of us are just trying to beef up our hives so that they'll last through the winter and be ready for almond pollination. I haven't heard any reports of whether hives are down in numbers. So far, ours look OK. We're putting a lot of feed on them and pollen patties, and right now we are just trying to keep them in a dry spot.

Just with the pathogens and the viruses mites carry, that's a huge impact on the bees. It doesn't seem to matter how much effort we put into breeding or resistance, it's just not all there.

I wouldn't be surprised come January we find a lot of dwindling hives and the bee numbers are way down again. You get the hives going, and then they look good, and then something happens, but there's usually more than one reason.

People say if you lose 50 percent (of your bees), you can get them back since beekeepers are able to rebuild their numbers, but it takes time and eventually it will claim a lot more and eventually you are not going to be able to do it.

Some people have already put bees near almond orchards. A lot of them come from out of state.

In our bee yards, we'll have what we call protein powder. The bees are able to get into the box to retrieve it and get back to the hive so that they have something to forage on, but it is not ideal; it's not as good as natural pollen.