From the Fields® - March 8, 2017
By Dana Merrill, San Luis Obispo County winegrape grower
We are wrapping up the pruning of our vineyards and coping with welcome yet field-operation-delaying rains. Despite the highest rainfall in perhaps a decade, damage is minimal as most vineyards utilize cover crops between the rows.
Rest for our wells is welcome after a few years of winter irrigations and soil salts are being leached.
There is no bud break yet, but with the first almond blossoms showing it is likely only days away for the grapes. Meanwhile, there is early interest in buying grapes by multiple wineries. Mandated wage increases and shorter hours loom in the future, but are not in play yet.
By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County beef producer
It has been a wet winter and there is plenty of moisture right now. We are very glad to have it and we really hope that it is going to be a good spring and a good summer. We kind of wish it would stop raining for a while, but all in all this is a major relief from the drought cycle that we have been in. We are going to hopefully reap the benefits and let things heal up. We know we can count on some water this year that in the past has been a little nip and tuck.
It is calving season for us and we are right in the middle of it. Calves are being born every day and that is going well. There hasn't been anything unusual or out of the ordinary. The first-calf heifers have done really well. We retain enough heifers to maintain our herd and cull the old ones out. We are about at capacity for our ranges.
We have a direct-market, grass-fed beef program that is a small part of our business, and it is a really good niche for us. It always has been, but it is a little bit better now because those prices aren't quite as volatile as commodity prices.
Essentially, we are just waiting for spring to break so we can get to work. As soon as the weather warms up, we can get out and get some things done.
With the added rain that we have, we will have some extra grasses and we can run some extra yearlings or make some more hay to either sell or put away for the winter.
Right now, we aren't making any major plans for changing anything because of the rain, but we are trying to figure out how to best utilize a little more feed. But you never know. Depending on spring moisture and temperatures, we may not have any more grass. It can show up in different ways.
By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County organic dairy farmer
It's been really wet. We live in the low land of Sonoma County and the ground is clay, so it's hard to get the cows out, but hopefully with the nice weather we are having we should get the cows out.
With us being organic, we need the cows to get 120 days out on grass. The organic pasture rule is 120 days on grass and 30 percent of their intake is pasture, so we try to get them out as soon as possible. Since it is March, we like to have them out eating pasture right now.
We grow silage on-farm and we'll probably cut that in June with how wet it is. We truck feed in, so we are trying to lock down contracts and now that we in the beginning in the New Year, we are starting to get hot wires up. We run an 18-day rotation, we have 300 cows and each string is 150, so we have an 18-day rotation on each string's pasture, so just getting fences up keeps us busy. Once everything starts to dry up, we'll start pulling out K lines, hand lines, the big wheel guns.
We've done a couple of nutrient management projects with the city of Santa Rosa, where we use the reclaimed wastewater for our irrigation and the city gets nitrogen and nutrient management credits. We are finishing up that project that involves adding a concrete lane out to our pasture, and we lined our manure pit with concrete.
We're getting ready to do ag days. Sonoma County puts on a two-day ag day event March 14 and 15. My dad and I have been taking cows there for about 20 years, so we have to get our cows washed and get our display ready, so we're gearing up for that.
By Garrett Patricio, Fresno County melon grower
After a rough 2016 and an incredibly wet winter, the melon industry looks ahead to warmer and "brighter" days in 2017.
Planting in the Central Valley will begin in the next few weeks and business as usual should ensue shortly thereafter. Despite record precipitation and all of our reservoirs being full, water allocations are still up in the air.
Crop maps will ebb and flow, but the strong dollar, cheap cotton, hay and grain contracts, and uncertain tomato price leads me to believe that there will be plenty of melon acres planted and harvested this spring and summer. Pricing and demand need to be addressed with our retail and food service customers, but the biggest challenges will likely be labor and its effect on foreign and domestic competition.
Fewer and fewer farmworkers are available and the persistent minimum wage increases put California producers in a precarious position with respect to competitive domestic pricing models.
Assuming fuel prices remain similar, East Coast freight costs will exceed the value of the fruit. This makes competing with Midwestern and Southeastern growers impossible. This also puts more pressure on the West Coast markets, as additional volume is placed locally.
Melons have always been a strong bulk summer commodity, but shrinking shelf space and longer shelf life melons have the industry concerned. We have focused intently upon offering better and more consistent varieties with full flavor, high brix and sweet aroma. Hopefully, this combination will induce consumers to "Buy California" more frequently and in greater quantities.
By Luke Wenger, Stanislaus County orchardist
The weather has been good and we have been happy. The big thing we are doing is bloom spray in the almonds with fungicides to try to protect these buds. With more rains coming, we will need to do another round of bloom spray and fungicides to get them ready. It has been a longer bloom period this year and we have a good set on the trees.
The bloom is starting to fall off and so we will be getting some nut development pretty soon. It is kind of nice to be approaching the end of the bloom.
We have had some warm days, so hopefully, all signs point to it being a decent year. Getting these good days for the bees to go to work and pollinate is kind of a good sign. But then again, you never know. Sometimes you get great days for pollination and have a bad crop, and other times you only have a couple of hours of weather for good pollination and get a large crop. You just never know.
Now that the alfalfa is starting to green up, we have been having to put on some weevil pesticide applications.
Other than that, it is essentially a matter of trying to catch up, because it is so wet that we haven't been able to get into the fields.
We are continuing to prune the walnuts and we probably have another month or two of that. We are blowing leaves and cleaning up the floor; all of the things that we typically do earlier in the year.
We don't have a lot of employees, but we have been trying to keep them busy. It has been a challenge to keep them busy, but now with this warm weather the guys are all ready to go. Once we get the good weather, everything comes at once.