From the Fields® - January 11, 2017

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

The harvest of the 2016 rice crop was challenging this year, with several significant rain events causing a good bit of lodging and slowing things down to a crawl. We finished around the 20th of October and managed to get everything chopped, but with fields wet from the rains, we were not able to get a disc and roller across the fields as was our design.

Our field yields were good, with milling yields ranging from below average to exceptional. Along with the vexing problems associated with weed biotype resistance to several crop protection materials, particularly in the case of sprangletop, there were a number of fields that were infected with blast disease. Oddly enough, the fields showing the worst infestations were fields that had been fallowed the previous year. Fortunately, the fields treated for blast responded very well, both in yield and quality.

We just had a soaking rain and some encouraging snowfall. Shasta is currently at 73 percent of capacity and according to the Department of Water Resources Jan. 3 snow survey, the moisture content is 53 percent of normal. This is pretty encouraging for both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for the coming year.

The California rice industry is facing significant challenges. With another big crop and a marketplace that seems to be awash in product priced below what California growers can afford to sell for, it is a classic cost-price squeeze situation. Ironically, California produces what is clearly the world's finest rice, not currently commanding the premium that it deserves or what California growers must have as the higher cost operators we are.

By Steve McShane, Monterey County nursery operator

Winter has set in heavy along the Central Coast. As a result, grapes are being pruned back and most of our fields have been plowed and spring planting has already begun.

Most strawberry planting is complete and the estimate is that we may see yet another small drop in acres under cultivation for 2017. I've heard that organic ground in the Salinas Valley may drop for the first time in nearly two decades.

Growers continue to discuss regulation tied to water resources given implementation of the new Groundwater Sustainability Act. The local farming community is very proud of the incredible working relationship in place with local government in this arena.

Labor remains tight in all sectors of local agriculture. Growers that pay a premium and provide housing continue to remain at the top of the heap. The nursery sector remains in fluctuation. I swear we are only now starting to recover from the housing recession of 2009. As always, we welcome another coming season with optimism and appreciation.

By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

Things are looking good up here on the North Coast. We are getting a lot of rain, which is resulting in a lot of grass. The fall gathering of our herd is completed, and now we have moved back into the shop working on some winter projects.

Calving should start here shortly and we are looking forward to getting a good crop of hay this spring. We could still not have a good hay crop if we don't get the March and April rains. So we are loving the rain and we hope to see more of it.

Beef prices are down from what they were the last two years. The last two years have been kind of a treat for us. The prices kind of bottomed in October, but they have worked their way back, not to the levels we had last year, but they have worked their way back enough that we are kind of close to what I put in my budget. I am retaining a lot of heifers this year rather than selling them.

We are looking forward to a prosperous 2017.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo vegetable grower

The year didn't end with a very good bang like we had hoped for. Usually, we hope for a spike in the Thanksgiving market depending on where we ship and we saw a little bit of a spike, but not what we had hoped. Supplies were plentiful because late-summer and fall weather was mild with excellent growing conditions, so production was good. There were small bumps in price for certain commodities, but we were counting on making this a better year.

Outside of that, the early rains are promising. We'll see what happens for the rest of the season. I know in years past we've had a good start and it was like somebody turned off the tap and we don't get anything for the rest of the year. Everybody is cautiously optimistic. We could get a very significant amount of rain that could cause some localized flooding. At this point in time, we'll take just about anything. Any amount of water is viewed as a desirable thing.

We are still harvesting some of our last plantings from last season, some Chinese Napa cabbage, bok choy, baby bok choy, and some parsley, cilantro and spinach. We are planting for the spring harvest right now. These weekly rains could make it a challenge and right now in a lot of cases we have to plant on our sandier ground, which is what we usually hold for the wet weather. That may affect us later on when we have wet weather to stay on our planting schedule.

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County orchardist

Over the weekend at my shop, I got a little over 3 inches of rain and some standing water on the roads. However, Shasta Dam is at 70 percent and Lake Oroville is at 60 percent. These reservoirs can take a lot of water before this is a panic situation. It's like we've had this drought for so long, they've forgotten what a normal winter is and this is pretty normal. By law, once we get into warning stages, (irrigation districts) are mandated to drive the levees and make sure there are no breaks or boils. We're not even at warning stages yet.

On the farm, my full crew is working and we're doing maintenance. I'm trying to keep my guys working because they need to keep food on the table. But you can't get out into the field at all. I have winter pruning to do, but with 3 inches in the orchard, you can't get in there. Once the ground dries out, we will be doing more winter pruning of walnuts and start strip spraying and some winter fertilization. I've got plenty of work; it's just a matter of Mother Nature giving me the opportunity.

By David Schwabauer, Ventura County citrus and avocado grower

Rain has been good, but two weeks of Santa Ana winds were just a devil. We estimate that a third of the avocado crop went on the ground in two nights. At my house wind was blowing 50 to 60 mph, but at the top of the ranch it had to be going 80 mph, I mean, just whole trees losing all of their fruit.

It's really hard on the lemons, too. The lemons are tough and hang on, but the thorns turn them into pin cushions. The tree is just wracked back and forth, so the load is just swinging. The first pack-out after the wind we were at 20 percent Sunkist.

We had two weather events: one after Christmas and one after New Year's. We ran the wind machines on Christmas Eve, so we were having a cold snap and we got through that and the winds just broke loose. It was very frustrating. We still had fruit on the trees and we were going to start picking the big fruit on Monday, and it hit Sunday night. I was talking to my mom, who is 90, who said this reminds her of a time in 1965, so this isn't new. It's happened before.

We were expecting to have 2 inches of rain last night and we ended up having only three-quarters of an inch, so the storm didn't exactly pack the punch that we were promised. The news reported that last December was the wettest December for Los Angeles since 2005. Yes, we're getting some rain, but it needs to be sustained and higher volumes to fill the dams.