From the Fields® - December 13, 2017

By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County organic dairy farmer

We are getting ready to sign a new contract with our milk company, so we have a little bit of changeover. Pastures are beginning to die off and the cows are in the barn.

The organic dairy market is decreasing in price right now because there is a lot of organic milk in the market. We actually went from $42 milk about a year and a half ago to $29. Our break-even price is like $32, so we are actually getting paid less than what it costs to produce the milk. We are considering possibly selling some cows and cutting back on our numbers.

Also, we are looking at labor costs and trying to decide whether to keep a guy or lose a guy. It is very difficult to decide to take a guy away from our operation and maybe not getting him back when we need to ramp up.

By Wayne Vineyard, Placer County rancher and rice grower

We are about 90 percent done with calves on the ground. We have been feeding them a little hay, but this year, because of all the rain, we have had excellent grass. The rains came early and kept coming, so we got good grass and didn't have to give them supplemental feed quite as much as in some years. In this area, we were in a good situation, compared to areas south of Sacramento where they didn't get all the rains.

We keep about the same number of cows each year, and cycle out about 20 percent of the older cows every year in order to keep our same numbers, which are about all our pastures can support. The market is up a little bit, from what I have been reading. We sold our calves in August and September and prices have come up since then. We started out years ago with polled Herefords, but in recent years we have been doing more of the black cows, which is what the buyers seem to prefer. We had water this year and our water district gave us 100 percent water, so that really helped us with our feed.

Our rice was a couple weeks late getting in, but it came along fast and we were only about a week late in cutting. But we still had good yields. We got 82½ sacks per acre and we usually average around 80 sacks, so it was a good year. Our rice was pretty well standing, so we were able to cut it quite easily. We were all done by the first week of October and we beat the fall rains.

We could use another rain now. The grass is still wet, but rain is better than cold because rain keeps the soil warm, which helps the grasses to grow. We got a little frost in the low spots, not the high spots.

We've also been doing our winter maintenance on equipment and building new fences where we need it. I know other cattle producers are in the same boat as us, and we all enjoyed the good grass.

By Russell Doty, Santa Barbara County diversified grower

Regarding the fires, I know there are farms in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that have had major losses. Here in Goleta, we are probably 15 miles west of any active flame. It is just God-awful, smoky and ashy.

While we're paying close attention to what is happening with the fires, this is usually our slow time when we are taking care of the trees and getting ready for next year. We finished picking our lemons about a month and a half ago. We will probably do a side pick of avocados early in the year.

We are still doing our irrigations. That hasn't stopped, as we are waiting on rain. We never made it out of the drought. Our local water district had dropped to about 10 percent. It came up to 50 percent, but unfortunately that hasn't stopped the water districts from continuing with the surcharge that was put in place during the drought. The majority of our water is from our own wells. For some of our neighbors, it is critical because they are paying out huge amounts of money.

As far as labor, it is difficult. We try to follow the letter of the law and we have approached some people who are working on labor crews to come to work full time for us, as long as they have their papers. They are not looking for a regular job where they have daily hours. So, it is really tough because we could really use two more guys.

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County diversified grower

Since almond and walnut harvest wrapped up, things are now winding down. We have been very busy with winter weed sprays and we've been blowing the strips over the last couple weeks. It has been really dry since the week before Thanksgiving. So, we've been backhoeing holes for trees. Since it is so dry, we have been disking to do some orchard floor prep for next year.

We were probably sub-par with our harvest this year, so we have decided to pull the trigger and ramp up our disking. Hopefully, we won't get any rain in the coming couple weeks. The forecast calls for little or no rain in December, and that is a little bit scary. We need the moisture. We are happy we are getting all the dirt work done now, but when January and February get here, we will be needing the water.

We have one field that we irrigate with surface water. Everything else is on wells. I hope to not have to turn the pumps on in January. That's the last thing we want to do.

Right now we are pruning our cherries. A lot of guys like to do their pruning in the summer because it restricts the growth of bacteria and other diseases. But I kind of fall back on what my grandpa always said, and that is to prune cherries every year in the wintertime. We are also gearing up for our winter dormant sprays.