From the Fields® - November 29, 2017

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

This is the quiet time of the year. We got our cover crops planted before we got those two or three inches of rain, so that timing was really good. It is all germinated and growing.

We started a little weed spraying. With the high cost of labor, we are going to try a little different approach and this spring we will try some chemical suckering. This means I will be changing my weed spray program. Some of the chemical companies have been doing research on which herbicides to use on suckers and there have been some good, practical trials.

We haven't started pruning yet because we haven't had any frost. I don't know what the labor situation will be, but I'm sure it isn't better. Hopefully it will be stable, but who knows.

Our grapes this year were OK with production. I think last year was better on the production side. Chardonnay and old vine zinfandel were probably the worst ones. Old vine zinfandel's market has been fairly soft, so I am seeing a lot of old vines being pulled out in the Lodi area. So, there will probably be an adjustment on that variety.

By Mike Bartley, Lassen County cattle rancher

We had a good winter last winter, so we had irrigation water for most of the summer. We put up a really good crop of hay and had plenty of pasture. In fact, we still have the cows out on dry pasture right now, getting by and not having to feed the cows.

About six weeks ago, we weaned all the calves. So we've got them on feed now gaining weight and doing really well. We come down to Chico to go to the sale to watch cattle go through and get a feel of what the prices are, what we're going to expect when we do go to sale with the calves in December.

We're seeing that the prices are going up from where they were throughout the summer. Seven-hundred-pound calves were bringing in about $1.40 a pound, which is quite a few cents more than they were throughout the summer. We're looking forward to a good market this year, especially with the rain now, which will start bringing some grass along here in the valley. These feeder calves will probably do really well in another two to three weeks. We're excited about that.

We just finished one of our big Natural Resources Conservation Service projects, and that's going to help us a lot. It's a cross-fencing project on about a 200-acre field we have on the northwest end of the ranch. We got a deal with NRCS to put in a solar well two years ago, some storage tanks and actual water troughs, so it's all automatic. We did that so that when we cross-fenced it, all of the four paddocks will have water for the cattle. This way, we can do some more pasture locations and get better utilization out of the grasses—do a little more of the Allan Savory-type of rotation that he studied for so long in Africa. We feel like we'll get a lot better utilization out of our feed and those pastures.

Some of the pasture does not have any irrigation, so we have to make do the best we can with what rainwater we have. We just got that project done, and we're very excited about it because it was a very time-consuming project and we did it all ourselves.

Other than that, we're just looking forward to the holidays. We'll probably start bringing the cows in and start putting them on feed. Then we'll be locked in to the ranch for the rest of the winter. We need to be there every day to feed the cows, but that's what we do and like to do. Some people think I'm crazy, but that's actually one of my favorite times of the year, because I'm out there with my cows every day. A lot of times when we're putting up hay and doing the summer work that we do, we don't get to go out and be around the cattle every day.

By Ana Cox, Mendocino County goat dairy farmer and cheese maker

We are a dairy and a creamery. We grow pretty much 100 percent of the hay that our goats eat. It's all natural-pasture hay that we cut. With just one cutting, we usually get more than enough to feed the herd. We cut that during the summer. Once the hay is cut, the goats go out there and stay out on pasture basically year-round. They are doing beautifully.

Pasture conditions are good. We just did soil samples in two of the fields and everything is exactly where it needs to be, so we're very pleased with that.

This time of the year, things start slowing down. The production slows down with the goats. We're right in the middle of getting the herd bred. All the does that are old enough and big enough to breed are bred. Probably by next month, we'll start drying everybody up. They should be dried probably by the first week of December. These goats have been milking for 10 months already, and so we usually dry them up and give them a little break—and give ourselves a break as well. Then they start having their babies and we start the whole process again in the spring.

We went through four years of drought and that was hard on everybody statewide. With these early rains, it's been wonderful. Everything around us is greening up beautifully, so it's nice to get the early rains. I just hope they don't come with a lot of flooding, which we've seen. The burn areas in our county—that's the biggest concern now. I'm very grateful that we were not affected by the fire, but we have other ranches in our county that have been. The rain is a blessing to all of us, but it's a double-edged sword.

By Gordon Poulsen, Placer County diversified grower

We're right in the middle of our mandarin harvest, and it's a short window because it's about a month and half of harvest time. We just got through with the big Mountain Mandarin Festival, which is the kickoff for the mandarin season here in Placer County. Business has been brisk. We're picking as fast as we can. If we can find the labor, we want to get the fruit off the trees.

Mandarins are very alternate-bearing trees. In other words, one year it's a really good crop and the next year the crop is a lot lighter. Quality-wise, it stays pretty much the same. Some years, the fruit is sweeter than others. We happen to be in the "on" year; this is our good year—high yield and I've had higher sugar content than I had all last year for my crop. It's an exciting year for us. But down the road, another grower is just the opposite. They're out of sync with us, so this is their "off" year, lighter crop.

So far, the labor hasn't been a big issue this year. We've had people willing to work out in the field. They seem to be excited about being able to do it, because it's really a nice job. It's not hot this time of year and it's a beautiful thing to do. So that's been working out pretty good.

We're going to be starting to harvest our lemons real soon, with oranges right behind it. It looks like a good crop. It's just they're running a little bit later this year. I thought they would be early.

This year, our mandarin harvest started three days later than last year. The lemons seem to be dragging this year. I think it's mainly because we really haven't had any good, cool temperatures yet.

We had about 1,600 tomato plants in the ground this summer. We were doing four farmers markets a week. Right now, the vines are dying, so we're going to be pulling those out and planting garlic. I'm just about ready to go out and plant about half an acre of our onion crop for next year. It's going to be a week of planting onions and garlic. My son and I do it all, so we're busy.

We're still doing two farmers markets. We do the one on Saturday up in Auburn—the Foothill Farmers Market—and we do the one in front of Whole Foods on Tuesday mornings. We have citrus and a few persimmons too.

There's a lot of choices out there. They're pulling in from Salinas and some of the growers have strawberries. Some of the other people do a lot of the leafy greens, which I don't do. It's too labor-intensive and I don't have the time because of the mandarin crop. At the markets, you're going to find just about everything.