From the Fields® - July 18, 2018

By Dino Giacomazzi, Kings County diversified grower

It's been hot, but the heat hasn't had a major impact on the cows. Nights have been cool enough for the cows to recover. This has been a bad year for flies and squirrels.

Milk prices are still low due to global supply issues. California has voted to move to a federal milk marketing order. Hay prices are high and there is a lot of uncertainty in the feed market due to soybean meal tariffs.

The almonds are going into hull split, and the crop seems average. Pest pressure has been low this year. Almond prices are fairly stable; no real swings in the market. Nonpareil prices have seen about a 40-cent swing over the past year. I'm not sure how the tariffs will impact prices going forward.

Corn and alfalfa are doing what corn and alfalfa normally do at this time of year. There is a lot of early corn in my area due to early wheat harvests brought on by frost damage. Fifty percent of our winter wheat crop was damaged.

By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

The cattle business is doing all right at the present time. We are primarily spring calvers and we have always been spring calvers. Over the last five years, we have tightened up our calving window quite a bit. What that does is that by the time June and July roll around the cattle are spread out all over creation. By having a controlled calving window of 60 to 90 days, we get bigger calves in the fall.

We had a lighter calf crop this year. Most of our cows are Angus or Angus cross. Part of them are an Angus-Charolais cross. The bulls are primarily Angus.

The lack of calves had to do with some of the cows that I bought. This has something to say for indigenous cows. In the spring, when I looked at the cows that didn't have calves, a lot of them were purchased from outside. But the older cows that were indigenous, all had calves. Not all of the cows that I bought had problems. Some of them turned out pretty well. So right now, we are on cruise control until the fall gather.

Fields are turning brown, but in the high country the grass is still green and the cows are loving that.

We had a powerline that came down and set the field on fire. Locally, the cows had done an exemplary job of keeping the grass down, so there wasn't a lot to burn, and we were able to extinguish it fairly quickly. This shows that grazing is a benefit on these permit areas. Last year at this time, if that line had arced, it would have been a catastrophe, because for the first time in 30 years there was excessive feed left on that pasture.

By Gino Pedretti III, Merced County diversified grower

My family has a diversified farming operation called Pedretti Ranches. We have a 500-cow Holstein dairy, 200 head of registered Hereford beef cattle and field crops. We grow cotton, alfalfa and corn, which we double-crop with wheat during the winter. I am the fourth generation to work on the farm and am proud to be the next generation involved.

We are starting to hit our slow part of the summer involving the farming operation. The cotton and corn have been planted. The major goal for us now is to keep everything wet during the heat. Bug pressure has been minimal in our cotton. So far, the crop looks really good during the early fruiting stage, but we still have a long way to go until harvest in October.

We are growing more pima this year, trying to take advantage of its higher price. Pima yields less than acala in our area because pima usually has a 10-14 day longer growing season. But there's a newer variety that we liked last year that matured much closer to the acala varieties.

On the dairy, the cows have been milking really good for this time of the year. Your butter fat and solids non-fat always drop a bit during the heat, which hurts your bottom line. We will see how the cows hold up after a month of 100-degree weather. September is usually our lowest production month.

The biggest issue facing our operation is water. We are in the Merced water basin, which gets the majority of our surface water from the Merced River. The State Water Resources Control Board recently released their final draft of the Bay-Delta plan (see story). The plan calls for taking 40 percent unimpaired flows from the river straight to the delta. The board will vote on Aug 21- 22. If it passes, the results will be devastating to the Merced economy.

By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County dairy farmer

Currently, we have been very busy. We have been irrigating twice a day trying to get our pasture rolling. We have a minimum of 120 days that we have to meet with the cows getting 30 percent of their feed from the pasture. So, we have been using treated water from the city of Santa Rosa.

We are just getting our third crop of hay going, so we will be able to cut that in about 80 days. I work at two dairies and I have been preparing for the annual organic inspection on my mom's dairy. I do all the paperwork and certificates. The inspections are once a year, plus spot inspections so verifiers can come in unannounced whenever they want. We have been working with USDA to make sure their inspectors are trained properly so they can know what to look for.

Right now, the market is all right. We have hit a plateau on milk prices; we went from $42 milk to $28-29, depending on the components. And there are some companies that aren't renewing contracts.

For the last five years, there aren't the people coming to the dairy looking for jobs. What they want is a house, but it is very difficult in our county to build a house because the permitting process takes forever. Right now, we have three employees who are milkers, plus me, my brother and my dad. So, we are really short-staffed compared to normal years.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We are nearing the end of our fifth cutting of alfalfa, and we are just now starting to see the effects of what we refer to in the southern desert area as summer slump. High nighttime temperatures result in the inability of the plants to fully respire, so yields typically drop by 50 percent. Just as we are getting hit by the summer slump, the bug complex is robust. We are having a difficult time controlling leafhoppers, alfalfa caterpillar and beet armyworm. They are just eating us up alive. So, in addition to the yield loss we incur from summer slump, we are also hit with the complex of the insects.

We are still seeing a fairly significant demand for alfalfa. Typically, in June we see supply start to saturate demand and then we start seeing a price reduction. But we really aren't seeing the historical drop in alfalfa prices in June that we normally see. This indicates to me that we might see a fairly large winter carryover.

In cotton, we are about normal in terms of accumulated heat units from planting relative to historic levels. We did have some significantly high temperatures in early July and 10 days later, we started to see the effects in the cotton. The cotton has level-two heat stress, which is indicated by significant boll shed. But the plants look good. Regarding cotton prices, we had a rally in late June so we were able to lock in some future prices, and that really helped us out.