From the Fields® - April 11, 2018

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice farmer

This week, we started opening up the rice ground with chisels. This was about 12 days behind from when we would like to start in a normal year. Most of the ground is drying out well.

At the end of the week, we saw rain. We are very thankful for the rain we received since the end of March. Because of the rain, our water situation has dramatically improved since the beginning of March. We could still use more snowpack in the Sierra.

Overall, we expect to be able to plant all of our acres of rice land. While we may not plant everything in the time frame we would like, we are thankful for the rain and snow we are receiving from Mother Nature.

By Ryan Rice, Humboldt County forester

We had some rains in the fall and then some beautiful sunny, dry weather into the winter. March reared its cold, wet head and showed us in Humboldt County that winter has not forgotten us. We have had significant amounts of rain and snow at almost sea level.

Looking ahead, our weather forecasts seem to have breaks here and there, but our rainy season is far from over. Needless to say, we don't have water issues here in Humboldt, despite most regulators' adverse intentions for our area.

We have had the same challenge of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act here in Humboldt as the rest of California. We filed for the alternative measure after extensive research had been done by third-party firms. It was conclusive that our medium-priority basin does not have a sustainability issue. We are still waiting on the state's decision whether to accept that or not.

With Humboldt County's shoreline directly adjacent to a lot of our prime ag lands, we have the ongoing issue of sea level rise. The process of permitting levee repairs to protect these prime ag areas, public infrastructure, housing and existing freshwater land habitat is expensive and time-consuming. This process is spread out among multiple regulatory agencies.

Humboldt County Farm Bureau has formed a lands working group consisting of landowners and other interested parties to start discussions as a pathway to a solution.

I work for Humboldt and Mendocino Redwood Companies as the construction manager. The timber market is really good and has many positive effects in our communities. Ranchers, loggers, log truck and lumber truck people, foresters, mills, distribution centers and all employees are ecstatic about feeling secure in their jobs, contracts and future timber industry endeavors.

It is also remarkable that our retailers and their customers are able to purchase any type of wood product that they may need at many different outlets for building projects of all types. This is something that we have been striving to accomplish for quite some time.

Our company CEO has also started a matching recovery fund due to the fires that devastated Mendocino and Sonoma County residents last fall. If you're interested in donating to the fund, go to www.communityfound.org.

By Jason Smith, Monterey County winegrape grower

The first quarter of 2018 has already been an interesting one. Mother Nature brought spring in January and winter in March. Just about the time we were ready to turn on the pumps, we got some nice rainfall. The hillsides are green and the vineyards are happy.

With decent rainfall in 2017 and this late gift, Monterey County is at least staying even with its water needs. Which leads me to our work on SGMA and balancing our basin over the next few years. The Salinas Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency is comprised of 11 members and ag has four seats on that board. As that board meets once a month, there have been a number of collaborative meetings among ag representing our sub-basins to start working on how we will balance the Salinas Valley water basin and have a reliable source of water for the next generation of farmers. Not an easy task, but very necessary.

Specifically in the winegrape industry, things are very cautious I would say. Three successive years of average and below crops should be providing an active market for winegrapes, but lower case-good sales in 2017 have wineries in more of a wait-and-see world. Chardonnay and pinot noir are the leaders in Monterey County, and I would say in general there is not a lot that is available, but what is will probably get signed up after spring, as the industry takes a look at crops statewide.

I think the biggest topic that we have internally and that we are all trying to figure out is how we keep ag viable in California. Sacramento has dealt us some large cost increases, with more to come over the next five years.

How do we manage a shrinking labor pool and increased costs, while prices remain relatively unchanged? Margins are rapidly disappearing and, as we start to think about redeveloping vineyards for another 30 years, the numbers we are starting to see may not have the returns that warrant that level of investment.

I believe we are getting to a critical point in California, where tough decisions are going to be made on whether the family farm, or maybe any business, is really worth the risk without the support from our government.In the end, it's just math. When costs start to outweigh income, then we are no longer sustainable. No one figures out how to do more with less than the family farm and agriculture. We will continue to push forward and work for solutions in the field and with our local and state politicians.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

So far, this spring has had its share of ups and downs. This just reaffirms that no two years are the same.

Bloom in the almonds came early. We had great weather for the bees for the most part and a very long bloom.

The apricots bloomed late and flowered throughout March, which is the latest we have ever seen it. There were dime-sized apricots and flowers on the same tree, and everything in between. It will be interesting to see when harvest will be and how uniform the fruit will be.

We have been fortunate so far and have not had much of an impact from the cold weather at the beginning of March, though there was significant damage to the almond crop in neighboring areas.

The dry winter has not helped growers who planted winter crops such as wheat. Few fields were planted this winter due to lower feed prices. The fields that are doing well had to be irrigated, which adds the cost of labor and water and cuts into what little profitability there may have been.

Tomato transplanting has begun in western Stanislaus County. The weather has been cooperating so far, but rain and cool temperatures could change that quickly.

Reliable surface water will again be a challenge for our area in 2018, though the reservoirs are in better shape than 2015 and 2016. Labor is a concern for most growers going into planting season, as well as harvest, and many growers are struggling to find row crops that will be profitable to grow with increased production costs from water, labor and regulation. Permanent crops such as walnuts and almonds have been a savior for many growers around here.