From the Fields® - October 25, 2017

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

We are in the middle of rice harvest that is going full speed. We've had north winds in recent days, which has really kept harvest moving along. We are well over halfway so far. Overall yields fluctuate, depending on varieties. Our short-grain varieties are average and our medium-grain ranges from 5 to 10 percent off from averages over the past couple years. So, we are seeing yields down a little bit.

A lot of guys around us are also harvesting and moving along quite nicely as well. Once harvest wraps up, we will get our fields ready for winter water. We have several fields with water on already, and we are seeing quite a variety of different birds migrating through and sitting on the rice fields. There are a lot of geese and ducks, as well as a lot of shorebirds. We are gearing up for the fall.

It's the fall time of year, which is a great time of year when I really enjoy being out there in the farm and in the fields.

Around us there are tree crops being harvested. Walnut harvest is in full swing. The prunes and peaches have been wrapped up for a while.

We have had a decent water year, but there was a lot of rain this spring that delayed planting by two to three weeks. In addition, it caused us to fallow some fields in the bypass where there was water on the fields and we could not get in there to plant in a timely manner. So, our acres were down by a few hundred because of the wet winter. We saw that happening throughout the rice country up here in the northern part of the state. Overall rice acreage in the state was down, just because of the wet spring that delayed planting.

We are looking forward to this coming winter to see what Mother Nature brings.Hopefully, we will have a normal winter and we can get everything planted next spring.

By April Mackie, Monterey County agricultural consultant

In the Salinas and San Juan valleys, the season is either coming to an end or just getting ready to plant the last crop of the season.

One may think fall is when the season starts to slow down and winter is downtime for agriculture. Quite the contrary. Many of the farming operations around here move to Yuma, Ariz., to produce lettuce and leafy greens during the winter months. The Yuma Valley provides moderate daytime temperatures that create optimum growing conditions for lettuce and leafy greens.

Here in the Salinas and San Juan valleys, one may notice a few lush green crops growing. Many of these are late-season lettuces, broccoli and cauliflower. The strawberry industry is still producing tasty berries, but harvest will halt around the first of November or whenever we are lucky enough to receive our first large rain.

After the rain, many of the fields will be bare dirt or covered in plastic in preparation for a fall planting of berries. In the strawberry fields, workers have been staying busy prepping beds, laying drip tape and now planting strawberry transplants. In the leafy-green fields, large-track tractors are disking up old crops, laser-leveling ground and bedding up fields in preparation for our winter planting of vegetable crops.

This is also the opportune moment for growers to implement water quality and field sustainability projects: planting buffer strips, transitioning old irrigation to more efficient methods, clearing of brush from potential flood-threatened areas (rivers, streams, etc), planning development for technical trials, and other sediment/water quality management practices.

There are many regulatory deadlines during the winter months. Updates for water quality regulations, water use reporting, CARB regulations and preparation for upcoming food safety audits will be upon us.

There may not be many green crops visible from the nearby roads, but farmers continue to manage to stay busy to ensure that their natural resourses are managed in a manner that continues to sustain our environment while providing fertile soil to produce the safest, cheapest and most abundant food supply in the world, despite over-regulation.

By James Durst, Yolo County diversified grower

I woke up this morning with a sound I cherish: silence. After weeks of north winds and the constant noise and dust associated with it, the silence was refreshing.

We are still harvesting fresh-market tomatoes on this third week in October and will probably go through next week as well. Flavor and quality are excellent.

We continue to harvest and sell winter squashes. Most are picked up from the fields and stored in bins awaiting sales. Pricing is holding well.

Overall, the season has been trying on us and required all ingenuity, experience and patience to see it through to the end.

Extended periods of high temperatures, especially in late June, affected fruit set, showing up in late July and early August with reduced harvest numbers in all tomatoes.

Watermelons got off to a rocky start with early plantings affected by late rains and interrupted or uneven pollination. But production beginning with the third planting stabilized.

We are now finishing up on most ground prep and amendment additions on fields where harvest is complete. We were fortunate to have adequate water this year. We are pre-irrigating some fields to get a jump on weeds in fields to be planted to grain this fall and alfalfa in the spring.

Like most growers, labor has been challenging this year. This is the first year in 30 years we did not have a waiting list to draw on for supplemental labor. We found ourselves short harvest crew members and left product in the field. We are currently working on strategies to see this does not happen in 2018.

We are refreshed by the cool fall mornings, exquisite sunrises and sunsets, and the smell of first rains.

By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County cattle rancher

We are into fall routine, so we have most of the irrigating done and the growing season is nearly finished. Right now, we are gathering cattle off the Forest Service allotments. We are getting ready to wean the calves and process everything. And now we move into winter mode.

As far as resources and production, this has been a pretty good year. We had plenty of water, which we really enjoyed, and there were timely rains. We have avoided some of the unexpected things that can happen in agriculture. We just had a stress-free year, which was nice for a change.

The markets have been a bit of a challenge on the income side. They haven't really fluctuated a lot, but they are not giving us huge margins. But there is opportunity and it seems like if we have the right cattle for sale at the right times, it has worked OK. Overall, the cattle market is expected to continue to soften over the next few years, as more and more cattle come to market and national cow herd numbers provide more supply. We are just trying to be very cost conscious and efficient.

We do have a grass-fed market that we are developing. It has been pretty good this year. From last fall into the spring, we weren't sure of what that market was going to be. There were some things happening that were beyond our control and somewhat beyond our awareness. The buyers just weren't active. But since spring, we found a couple other markets that we were able to tap into and the demand for the grass-fed cattle we were producing rebounded. We could have sold more if we had more. But it is still just a small part of the business relative to our total income, and being somewhat of a specialty market, I suppose it is going to be that way for a while.

On the flip side, it is difficult to put all your resources into a specialty market because when the market doesn't seem to be there, you are essentially stuck and facing huge losses or continuing to inventory a product that you don't need.

Looking forward, we are encouraged by the grass-fed market, but I suspect that we will always have some cattle to sell in the conventional market and try to make the balance work for us year in and year out.