From the Fields® - May 9, 2018

By Peter Bradford, Mendocino County forester

The feed for livestock is coming on strong. We all are hoping that it doesn't heat up too quickly, so the grasses continue to grow.

Cattle and calves are now not having to work too hard to get a full belly and aren't really that interested in hay. Rainfall is still considerably less than a "normal" year. We are under 25 inches. However, we can still expect rainfall in May and hopefully June.

Vineyards are starting to bud out. In forestry, you had to have the first set of spotted owl calls for this season done by last Sunday.

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

The vines are about seven to 10 days later than last year, which was strange because of all that rain we had last year. With all that rain, the vines are cold, but they seem to grow faster. We've had a good spring so far. Those very timely spring rains helped fill the soil profile, which will help the vines through spring and summer so we can save on irrigation.

Crew-wise, we are still short on labor. This is a continuing problem. All of our inputs are costing a lot more every year, so we are taking a close look at mechanization.

One thing that we are looking at and that we are going to try this year is chemical suckering of the suckers on the grapevine trunks. This will reduce our labor costs, because the crews can then focus on the tops of the vines rather than the entire vines. We are using several different materials to see what works the best. This should save us some time and money.

We are applying chemicals and sulfur to the vines right now to protect against mildew. The crop level looks better than last year, but bloom won't happen until mid-May, so we are still off of that. Everything as of now looks better than last year.

Last year, we bought a new piece of property. It had an old vineyard that we tore out and we are leaving the field fallow this year. We will go back into grapes and have decided to plant chardonnay.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay grower

Never second-guess Mother Nature. This February, things looked like we were going to be way short of rainfall for our hay, so we planted the spring crop about three weeks early. We had the best kill pre-plant in many years, and the herbicides worked in textbook fashion. Then came the March and April rains, and we are looking at a bumper crop.

In true farmer fashion, I don't count chickens before they're hatched. With the late rains come the potential for leaf rust in the hay, and some of the heavier crops have fallen down from the wind and rain. That can sink quality in a heartbeat. It still looks like a profitable year. I wish the dairies would start making some money and buoy the hay prices up.

Anytime hay crops are good, pasture is good also, so that will bring hay prices down a little. With little carryover from 2017's crop, that is not a big concern.

Vineyards are going full tilt with their activities. This morning, I saw a helicopter dusting some vines on ground too wet for tractor sprayers. I haven't seen that in April for many years.

Sonoma County is actively working to get our groundwater sustainability agencies, or GSAs, together and funded. Not sure we're doing the right thing or the right way, but we have to do something.

By Pete Verburg, Stanislaus County dairy farmer

We’re still fighting low milk prices. That’s always topic No. 1, no matter who you meet with. Beef prices have gotten a little bit stronger. I’m not saying we can live on beef, but it’s part of our business.

We are completely done chopping all of our winter forage. Because we had such late rains, there’s a lot of winter forage around our area that didn’t look very good. The crop just sat there and struggled all winter trying to grow, but it had no moisture. We had months of no rain.

When it finally did start raining, it was a little too late already. For a lot of people, it was a little past time because they didn’t irrigate their ground with well water. A lot of them can’t do it. We went ahead and irrigated all of ours, so I had a pretty decent crop and nice yield. My neighbor didn’t do worth a darn. There was just not a lot of tonnage out there.

We just finished pre-irrigating all of the ground and soon we will be reworking the ground and getting our corn put in.

Milk production has been great because we did have a dry winter, which in turn means a lot less mastitis. The cows weren’t stressed out because of too much rain. Of course, we have free-stall barns, but even with free-stall barns, if it’s wet constantly, that moisture or humidity will get through the barns, and that affects the cows. They’re not going to produce less milk, but you’re going to have more issues with mastitis and breeding issues.

We’re lucky this year the cows were only in the free-stall barns for four months. Last year, when we had that real wet year, the cows were in the free-stall barns for five and a half months. The most comfortable place for a cow to be when not in a free-stall barn is in an open corral. But you can’t put them in an open corral when it’s raining.

Because we’re able to put cows in free-stall barns, we never see spring flush anymore. We used to increase milk production like crazy in the spring because you’ve got nice weather and the cows are outside in a dry corral. I don’t think our production increases by five pounds in the spring compared to what it was during the winter.

I’m anticipating that the federal milk order (for California) will go through. We’re a couple of weeks away from knowing if it passed or not. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass because the co-ops bloc voted. From the people that I know and how they feel about it, I’m fairly sure it’s going to pass. I’m going to be real surprised if it doesn’t.

We’ve got a great water year as far as the Modesto Irrigation District. They’re going to give us 42 inches.

By George Tibbetts, Colusa County rice grower

It wasn't a particularly wet winter, but the sequence of storms we had in April kept us out of the field until well into April. When we finally started ground work, the fields were still a bit wetter than I would have liked. Nevertheless, we started up to accelerate the drying process and prepare a nice seed bed for rice. In early May we started water in our first field, with four more to go. We are really scrambling to get all of our fields planted by the 15th of May, which is always our goal in order to take full advantage of the growing season.

Prices have firmed up from where they were a year ago. Most of the 2017 California rice crop has been sold or has been spoken for, so there is definitely not a surplus on hand to deal with as we head into producing the 2018 crop.

I've heard that we will have about 500,000 to 525,000 acres of rice in the state this year, which is pretty close to our historical average. Hopefully, yields will be up from the disappointing level we had last year.