From the Fields® - March 14, 2018

By Shaun Crook, Tuolumne County forester

We are about ready to go out into the woods to start our spring timber activities. Typically, in the timber industry, we don't harvest in the wintertime. We are usually doing maintenance on our equipment, making bids to purchase timber and getting things lined up for the summer season.

What's been different about this year is that there have been some operations that have been able to continue working on lower-elevation timber, working near urban areas and other places that have been more accessible. So, people have been seeing more logging trucks than usual in the winter. At our operation, we are working on our equipment and getting ready to start harvesting. We will have to see what the latest storms have to say about that.

Regarding tree mortality, we are probably in our third or fourth year of dealing with the bark beetle infestation. The farther south that you go from Sacramento, the worse it has been. So, a lot of companies have been doing salvage operations, either from fire or the bark beetle. The best way to control the bark beetle is through proper management. If we had a forest that was managed and in a position to prevent the bark beetle, we would have a much better chance of controlling this invasive species.

Right now, lumber prices are as high as they have been since 1993. They are not as good as 1993 if you adjust for inflation, but between floods, hurricanes and fires, there is a lot of rebuilding that is going on and the demand for lumber is very high.

By Sean Curtis, Modoc County diversified farmer

We are in the middle of calving season. The weather was good most of the time, but it got a little nastier the last couple weeks. But still, all in all, the weather has been fairly good.

Hay supplies have been a little tight, if someone is looking for some. Besides that, it is still a little bit early in the season for farming, although there was a little bit of farming in January if a grower had some sandy ground. But the winter weather has come back in. It looks like there are some storms coming in the next couple weeks. Hopefully, those storms will replenish the reservoirs that are looking a little low at the moment. The snowpack is looking low as well.

It is early for anybody to do anything with putting in crops. That generally waits until April.

We are seeing some significant movement of snow geese coming in, working on pastures and newly emerging grain crops that are just now popping up through the ground. These birds munch on the young plants. They really love meadows as well, and when we had the warm spell in January, everything greened up and the geese were loving that.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Things have been pretty dry this fall and winter. This is such a contrast from the winter and spring of 2016-17. The California rice industry scene continues to be like a kaleidoscope: Just a little turn one way or the other, and the entire picture changes.

Here in the Colusa Basin near Maxwell and Delevan, we found ourselves with standing water in many of the fields well into May of 2017. As a result, we were not able to get everything timely planted and left significant acreage fallow. This was pretty common in the basins and flood-prone areas of the North State.

The lower planted acreage was a blessing in disguise, as grower returns for the 2016 crop (virtually a full-production year), were disappointing to say the least. The lower production anticipated from the 2017 rice crop resulted in the reduction of carry-over stocks from 2016 and earlier production, as well as strengthening prices.

What rice we did get planted yielded surprisingly well, with good milling yields, which was a little surprising given the long, hot summer.

With our ongoing problems with weed biotype resistance, particularly in the case of sprangle top, watergrass and smallflower umbrellaplant, the availability of several new crop protection materials in 2017 was truly welcome. These new materials seemed to work pretty well, although the price tags were quite a jolt.

Looking out to crop year 2018, a number of uncertainties loom: Will the improved prices for the 2017 crop year hold for another crop cycle, particularly if it turns out to be a big acreage year? As the number of countries around the world who have evolving medium-grain rice breeding programs increases (not to mention the Southern rice industry's planting decisions), will we be able to compete for those thin and volatile markets, given our high production costs in California?

As I write this, a wet pattern and some significant snowfall has finally returned to the state. Perhaps at least one vexing uncertainty, the question of water availability for irrigation for crop year 2018, might be answered on a positive note in the coming weeks.

By Paul Sanguinetti, San Joaquin County diversified grower

With all this dry weather, we were working some open ground we had. My kids were working in the almonds. They had spraying to do. We're doing pruning in the walnuts. Now that it's rained, we got a chance to do some mechanical work on stuff that needs to be fixed—drain some oil, do some servicing.

Looks like some more rain is coming. We're going to be spraying the almonds again because of the rain.

Once we finish pruning, we got guys stacking brush and we're digging out all the old, dead trees. I would say, basically, maintenance work. We got all the equipment fixed, ready for springtime.

We're hoping that we get rain this month, but the first of April it quits so we can start planting our crops. We'll plant some silage corn. We have tomatoes to plant, and we're going to be planting less tomatoes. The price just isn't that good. Last year, we took a big hit. Production was down. We're kind of cutting back this year and hoping things are better.

Working on drip tape, working on pumps that need to have filters put in for drip tape—we do all that ourselves. We don't hire anybody to do any of that work. We have a lot of things that we have to put in—pipelines; we have some of that to do this spring. We're getting everything set up so that when it gets dry enough, we can go ahead and install the projects that we have lined up.

We're just waiting for spring to come so we can start working.

Where we're at in San Joaquin County, we have a sufficient amount of surface water—out of Hogan up there—and we're getting some water out of Melones, too. Our groundwater's in pretty decent shape because we've had surface water now for a long time. It's really helped us maintain our groundwater level.

We've got a lot of issues—SGMA's coming along. We don't know how that's going to affect the groundwater, what rules are going to be put in place. They want to test all the domestic wells. So there's a lot of government things that are being brought along, which we're going to have to deal with. A lot of book work now—I have to do my nitrogen plan, my lands plan—so there's a lot of paperwork we never used to have to do. We're getting that done so we can have some time to farm.

The way costs are right now, we need good production and we need good prices just to break even. We don't need another year like last year, I can tell you that.