From the Fields® - June 14, 2017

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Here it is the second week of June and we're being treated to some very pleasant weather, including a nice little rain, which exceeded a quarter inch in our area out east of Maxwell and Delevan. Had we still been struggling to get rice planted, we would have likely faced a situation we dread: having wet fields with fertilizer applied but not ready to flood. We have unpleasant memories of situations where oxygen-starved rice struggled to grow and weed pests beat the rice out of the water.

Here in the Delevan area, we had significant rainfall until the 19th of April, with many fields still showing standing water into the month of May. Looking at all the detailed records we have kept over the years, we were reminded that these heavy clay soils in the Colusa Basin usually require a minimum of 35 days from first tillage to planting. We repaired flood damage and planted what we could until the last couple days of May.

Not having had the luxury of an open April to get the fields as dry as we'd like, we're hopeful that the new formulations of rice herbicides available this year will help with what I expect will be relatively heavy weed pressure. Biotype resistance in sprangletop and smallflower umbrellaplant has been a particular problem in our fields.

We're awaiting the estimates as to the size of the California rice crop for 2017. While reductions in planted acreage from 2016 are inevitable, the question is: Will this thin, volatile and risky market respond sufficiently to get grower returns to a profitable level again? For the long-term viability and survival of this industry, I certainly hope so.

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

We are like everyone else. It has been really wet, and therefore we have had trouble getting the logs into the mills. I think all the mills in the last month at one point or another have been out of logs. And they have been desperate to buy logs, which means the price of logs is up.

We are looking at what is probably the best price we've seen for redwood in the past 10 years. There are strong prices for Douglas fir as well, not as good as we would like to see, but I'm not sure we are going to see anything better.

We are also in the spotted owl calling period. This year, I have to do six calls. We have a problem with all the bard owls, and that is why we have to do these extra calls. The bard owls have taken over the spotted owl habitat and as a result I am monitoring where the bard owls are at rather than the spotted owls, which is very frustrating because it means you can't work until after you get this calling done and we lose about six weeks out of the year.

The bard owl has moved in from the eastern United States and taken over all this habitat. As a consequence, Fish and Game is requiring these extra calls. This makes it difficult for tree farmers and really hasn't done anything to improve the situation for spotted owls. All is does is verify that the populations are going down.

By John Moore, Kern County diversified farmer

We’re harvesting potatoes right now. We began harvesting on May 3 and we’re about halfway through our harvest season. The early crop was decent. Rains had some effect on our early varieties and didn’t seem to have quite the same effect on our operations and crop size for later varieties. After potato harvest, we’ll follow it up with some carrots.

The market is pretty hot right now for chipper potatoes. I don’t deal with the fresh-market potatoes, but I would assume it’s the same. The Midwest and Southern states had some production issues, so potatoes from the Kern area are in high demand. Midwest storage is off. Florida has some frost pressure, and I believe Texas had some pest pressure. So we’ve been digging a lot of potatoes. It’s been very consistent this year. We’re able to meet the needs of the market right now.

We set up contracts early in the year, so we don’t deal with selling on the open market. We try to contract our tonnage so we don’t have any surprises. That was before we had those huge rains, so we were contracting based on the water supply. We were conservative on our planting and our scheduling just because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to do.

Although we’re contracted, we’re still having lots of extra buyers approach us. We’ve got our original contracts to fill, but I’m seeing a lot of demand out there. The supply is not exactly meeting the demand.

Everything is doing well on the ranch production-wise. Pistachios look decent. I don’t like to say what kind of crop we have until we harvest, but everything looks OK right now.

Almonds—our pollinators look good. I’m hearing different things, different reports throughout the state. Some people’s pollinators are on; some people’s pollinators are off. In fact, I heard that the nonpareils are a little bit off this year, but I’ve also heard from some folks in the north that nonpareils are coming in fine. Personally, on our ranch, our Montereys, which are our pollinators, are higher than our nonpareils.

Citrus is coming in. We’re starting to see decent size on our citrus. It’s another year, another lesson. Every year is different, no matter what. It’s another interesting year on the ranch.

By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County diversified grower

We finished all of our winter produce. We're in the middle of our spring melon and corn harvest. We had exceptional yield. We had good weather, good production and prices are down. We just finished our onion harvest, and those prices are down this year.

Alfalfa seed is what I'm growing now. That seed is being set and is blooming. That market is fairly steady. We'll harvest in mid-July. We're starting to do a lot of ground preparation for all plantings. We're still in the middle of making hay. Hay production is going strong. We're just starting our fifth cutting. We've got summer-quality hay. We're making our horse retail hay and our export hay. We're not making our dairy hay anymore. We're doing either export hay or horse-quality hay. That market is steady—kind of low but steady. It seems to be in the range of $170 to $180 a ton. We just started our first cutting of Sudan and that's a pretty strong market, bringing close to $190 (a ton) for top-quality Sudan, $50 for the off-quality Sudan.

I haven't done silage wheat in a long time, but we just finished the wheat-grain market. We do durum wheat—desert durum, which is a specialized durum wheat that's only produced in southeastern California and southwestern Arizona. It's a patented variety, and we can hit our 13 and a half percent protein and most places can't hit that high protein levels. We're just finishing up with that.

Durum wheat tends to be a higher market and our desert durum tends to be higher than the durum market. The durum market is set in North Dakota and Canada, and that's where 90 percent of the durum wheat is grown. But we grow desert durum, which is very high quality. They take our durum and blend it with Canadian and Montana wheat to blend their proteins up and they blend ours down. So we tend to get a premium for our wheat production.

The millers like our wheat because we can guarantee protein year after year. We never have a natural disaster. We never have a flood. We never have hurricanes. We never have drought because our environment is so controlled. We can do five-year contracts on wheat, which nobody else in the world could ever think about doing. That market is fairly low. It's about $12 a hundredweight, which is low for durum wheat. But it's high for most other wheat.