From the Fields® - April 26, 2017

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

In our area, we have had some significant rain over the past couple weeks that put a halt to any field prep work for planting rice. However, it looks like we made it through the recent storms. There may be a little more rain happening, but other than that, the forecast is for clear weather for the next week or so.

Given that, we should be in the fields here in the next couple days. We were fortunate here in April to have opened up quite a bit of land, so those areas are drying out fairly quickly with the warmer weather.

We are probably 10 days behind where we were last year. We seeded our first short-grain fields on April 18 last year, and that has already come and gone. Fortunately, we have enough equipment to get it done.

We are planning to plant about the same amount as last year. Land in the bypass is still under water at this point, so that land is in question at the moment. Other than that, we plan to plant everything.

Rice prices have stabilized, from what I am hearing. They are still low, given the prior few years, but I believe the positive thing is that prices have hit bottom and are trending upward.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Up here in the Sierra foothills, we've already had three frosts and they are tough on the vines. We had our barbera, which is out about 2 to 3 inches, and it burned it back pretty hard. With some of the young vines, two to three years in age, we actually had to go through and cut them back to two buds and start the process all over again. The zinfandels had tight buds, so they made it through the frosts.

As far as rainfall, over the last two years we only averaged about 25 inches due to the drought and our average is 32 inches. As of now, we are up to 72 inches of rain. It is incredible. The best thing about the rain is that we are getting our tractors stuck and we would much rather have to deal with that than have the drought.

Overall, we are seeing a good set of fruit that will be out there. Last year was the worst crop as far as quantity, but by far we thought it was the best quality. It was one of those fabulous years.

Everything else is blooming. We have lots of catkins on the walnut trees and the pastures are just lush. The cows are just swimming in the grass out there in the fields.

By Jenny Holtermann, Kern County almond grower

It's been warming up and cooling down with the roller coaster of weather we've had in the southern Central Valley.

We have had a series of storms that brought high winds, which resulted in down trees. The storms have been followed by warmer temperatures of 80- and 90-degree days, causing the need to start irrigating.

We have taken advantage of the irrigation by also fertilizing our almonds at the same time through our drip systems. With the wet winter and spring we have had, we had to start treating for rust.

The increase of moisture this year has created a favorable environment for the development of diseases in the trees. Leaf-footed plant bug has also become a potential issue, especially in the warmer winter areas. We need to stay on top of any potential for disease or insects this year with the warmer, wet winter and spring.

By Aaron Lange, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

After many years of drought, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I wish the rain would stop until after the fall harvest.

In a nutshell, wet vineyards and a tight labor supply have made spring in the Lodi area very challenging for vineyard managers. Many farmers with ground adjacent to the Mokelumne River still have vineyards partially underwater due to the sustained, high-volume releases from Camanche Dam.

The wet ground, especially in the delta areas and in the Clements/Lockeford region, has caused major delays in vineyard tractor work, including weed spray and disking that typically is done in the winter. We are thankful to have a few rubber tracklayer tractors to pull through wet spots that refuse to dry out with the occasional rainstorms that have hit us in the last couple of weeks.

Growers in our area are battling to apply fungicide sprays and sulfur dust in difficult field conditions and challenging weather patterns while powdery mildew pressure is very high.

It's probably a little too early to make any accurate predictions on crop size, but our initial bunch counts in chardonnay are indicating an average to below-average yield. We are hopeful this spring will dry out so we get favorable bloom and berry-set conditions for the vines.

By Tony Toso, Mariposa County beef producer

The hills are still pretty green. The lower country is starting to burn off some, but at the 2,000-foot elevation we are still 95 to 100 percent green, depending on where you are. Feed looks good and it looks like things are strong.

We just processed calves over the weekend, and I think cattle are on target to be pretty similar to last year if not a bit heavier. I have been hearing some concerns about grass tetany, which happens sometimes in wet years. So guys are supplementing with magnesium to help thwart that. Other than that, regarding pasture conditions, the feed is ahead of the cattle, which is nice to see.

I think most people are going to be around normal ship dates. Some may move them a little bit earlier because the cattle are getting bigger. I think we will have green grass later than we did last year and of course much better than the years before.

As far as markets are going, it looks like we have had an uptick in cattle prices from what I have followed off video sales. I saw cattle weighing 550 pounds bring as high as $1.70, but more typically closer to $1.60. So that is probably a little better than people were expecting. And of course the prices will go down as the cattle get into the heavier weight categories. Things look pretty positive all the way around for the cattle.

By Jeff Merwin, Yolo County diversified grower

If I wasn't optimistic by nature, I would not be a farmer, but wow, January rains forced abandonment of plan "A" for cropping. February and March tossed plan "B" out the window. We are now implementing plan "C" as a matter of survival while questioning our sanity.

Three-quarters of our established alfalfa drowned. Our only viable replacement option in this neighborhood is safflower, which is priced at about 75 percent of what it was last year—and we have yet to plant a single acre.

We had a minimal amount of wheat due to terrible pricing, and although very little actually drowned, the root system is severely compromised, leaving us with perhaps a 1 to 1-1/2 ton crop. We managed through sheer grit and determination to drop and set 34 acres of hybrid seed onion bulbs, finishing just before New Year's, only to see 6 acres flood and float to the far corner of the field in January.

So, what do we have that's good?

Alfalfa seeded in November (remember, it rained in October too) and flooded in January and February actually survived and we have viable stands. November-seeded barley fared similarly and looks very good right now, though we are watching for striped rust. Dichondra and chardonnay were asleep for the worst of it and have emerged unscathed (praying for no hail and a home run on both).

We snuck in another 160 acres of alfalfa ahead of the 2-inch rain a few weeks ago and it looks very good, other than being seeded in April. We are looking at perhaps more than two weeks of clear, sunny weather for just the second time since December.

This year has proven so far to be one that makes a farmer appreciate the good years.