From the Fields® - January 10, 2018

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

There isn't much going on down here, but there may be some rain coming in soon so I can plant. I am crossing my fingers.

I need to get a good storm in here to start planting. I usually wait until I get an inch of rain to get the weeds germinating, so I can take them out before I plant my seed. That's what I'm waiting for and it is now getting pretty late in the season. I haven't had any significant rain at the ranch since February of last year.

I have some rainfall records going back to the 1930s. It has happened before. This is the fourth year where the ranch received no rain in September, October, November and December. The end result of those earlier years ranged from five to seven inches total rainfall, and we normally get 12 inches.

So, the prospects don't look very good. But you never know. Every year is different, and I basically have been on hold waiting for some rain. I haven't had normal rainfall since 2011.

I plant barley and oats mix to make grain hay for the horse market.

What did help last year was that Paramount Pictures was here in October to shoot a movie. It is about transformers. They built a gas station on the ranch and then blew it up with a meteor. I can't believe the detail that goes into something like this. They took out a fence in my feedlot and then when they were done, they built me a new fence.

So basically because of the movie, I will be able to farm for a couple more years.

Meanwhile, I am just on hold waiting for it to rain.

By Dan Errotabere, Fresno County diversified grower

We have finishing planting the wheat on our ranch and we are now getting ready to plant the garbanzo fields in the next several weeks.

Our garlic stand is established now, but it could really use some rain to progress.

Land preparation for tomatoes and pima cotton is ongoing for the coming season. The ground is hard and dry for our buried drip beds.

We need rain and we need it now.

By George Tibbitts, Colusa County rice grower

The last time I wrote one of these reports was back in August. I just re-read that piece, and I was so wrong that it made me laugh.

Yes, the rice looked really good at the time, both in terms of stand and also in weed control. But once harvest started in September, it became clear very quickly that this was not going to be a bin-busting year.

Yields ended up being about 10 percent below our average, and that turned out to be the case all across California rice country.

Ten percent off may not sound too bad, but in fact it is really quite unusual. Rice is generally a pretty stable crop, year-in and year-out; a 5 percent swing from average either way is usually about as far it goes.

While the hot summer we had was great for rice growth and development, perhaps it was too much of a good thing. My conclusion is that the hot summer favored vegetative development and that it was detrimental to reproductive (grain) development. We grew a great crop of straw.

Whatever the cause, after 25 years of growing rice, once again I am humbled about how much I don't know. The old saying about not counting your chickens until they hatch comes to mind.

On the bright side, after several years of declining prices, it appears that we hit a bottom with the 2016 rice crop and we are now seeing an upswing. If the trend continues, it could more than make up for the lower yields that we just experienced. But I'm not going to count those chickens just yet.

By Jeff Fowle, Siskiyou County livestock producer

Winter in the north has been nonexistent, unfortunately. It has been cold and dry, making for good feeding with no mud.

Spring cows are about to start calving, sale bulls are on feed and replacements are fat and happy.

The ewes are about to start lambing, sale bucks are growing well and due to the dry weather there have been no cases of footrot.

The lack of mud has also allowed for plenty of time to play with horses. At this rate, there won't be any cobwebs to dust off in the spring and several young horses have had early first rides.

Fall farming was able to run late and it looks like spring farming could start earlier than normal. However, with little to no snowpack, it is looking to be an interesting water year and likely another bad fire year. Prayers are going out for a cold, wet spring.

By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winegrape grower

Last year, we finally got caught up on average rainfall because of the drought. We get on average about 32 inches of rain, but last year we got 72 inches of rain. But because of all the drought years, this only put us to normal or maybe a little bit above average in the Sierra foothills overall.

The one thing we did notice was the excellent quality of the grapes. It always sounds like a cliché in the wine industry that it is always a great vintage, but this was the year for really dark colors in the grapes. I attribute this to the cooler temperatures over the summer. We had more cool days than high-heat days.

The other thing that has never happened in my 25 years as a winemaker is that everything went through the primary fermentation and the reds went through a second fermentation, and all done very quickly. Ninety days ago, the grapes were on the vines and today they are in the bottle, as far as zinfandel and barbera. These great wines are in the bottle. And I've heard that others have been able to do this, too. I think it is because the grapes had the nutrients and the water. When you have healthy grapes, things happen faster.

As far as the olive crop, there are starting to be more olives up here in the foothills. People like to have olive oil with their wine. The olive crop this year was very heavy. The trees were just leaning over with copious amounts of olives.

We don't spray for olive fruit fly or any other insects, but there were hardly any this year. I don't know what happened, but I think it was the natural predators and our integrated pest management practices that paid off. The olives were nice and clean.

As far as the walnuts, there was a large crop, but they were smaller sizes.

We say this every year, but this was a very challenging year for labor. The prices are phenomenal. And it doesn't even matter how much you pay, you just can't get the crews. There just aren't enough people out there to get through the harvest. So now we are using mechanical pruners. They are operated by battery pack and last about 12 hours on a charge. More and more things are going mechanical.