From the Fields® - September 26, 2018

By Mike Jani , Mendocino County forester

Regardless of where you work in the state of California, the one and only thing that's on people's minds who own trees and forestland in California is the fire season and the extreme destruction that has occurred already early in the year. We have a long time left before fire season is over. Many landowners have suffered extreme losses of their timber asset, especially in Mendocino County and the Sierra.

This is going to affect timber prices through the rest of the purchasing season and it will have impact on timber prices—particularly in Douglas fir and pine—through next year, because if there's a rash of material that is going to be developed once these fires are put out, people go to salvage that timber.

The remediation on these burns has just begun. In some cases, fires are still smoldering. Between the state/Cal Fire and the forester, we're just beginning to see what may come.

Keep in mind, this is on top of the fires that burned last year, and there's still material coming in off of those burns. The mills are very full with salvage material from last year's burns and looking at this avalanche of potential material coming off this one salvage operation to begin again. I don't think they started yet because the fires are still smoldering.

Maybe the only good thing that can be said about what we've learned from these fires is that all of us who work out in the woods—our loggers and landowners—we just have to maintain vigilance until the winter season begins. There's no room for mistakes on our operation.

I think everybody in California is wide awake to this issue right now, even those who haven't suffered from fire on their own lands. The smoke that all Californians experienced this summer has everybody on edge.

What we as Farm Bureau members and in the forest industry are looking at is just vigilance with the people who are working on logging operations right now. When we get into periods of extreme heat and wind, I know many—not only in Mendocino County but also in the Sierra—are going through early operational shutdowns during peak-fire weather. We don't work into the afternoons if we have extreme temperatures. When using equipment that is involved in logging, we make sure that sparks aren't being generated and that there's adequate after-hours staffing to make sure there aren't ignitions that had started during the day that smoldered. Everybody is going through those steps right now. The contract loggers that work on our properties and others are all being extremely careful and taking those steps.

By Henry Giacomini, Shasta County cattle rancher

Our cows and calves on U.S. Forest Service grazing permits are doing very well. We are providing supplemental water using trailers and tanks on extensive rangelands. Calves are growing and cows are maintaining body condition. The costs to provide supplemental water are quite high. Hopefully, we get some environmental kudos for providing fresh, clean water for all the wildlife out on the forests.

On our irrigated ranches, pasture rotation of fat cattle finishing is right on target to provide truly grass-fed and finished beef to niche markets. It isn't simple, as all agriculturalists understand, balancing resource availability with market demands.

We have worked all year to grow forage to feed our cowherd over the winter season. We start bringing our cows and their babies off the ranges in September and October. Water availability is always a concern; we work to make the most of what Mother Nature provides.

Our local Food Fest was a great success, giving many folks a chance to see local products and introduce them to stewardship of natural resources and have fun in the process.

As we move into the fall season, we will gather cows and calves off the rangelands and bring them to our home-base properties. We will wean, sort and sell or keep many different groups of cattle. We have many cattle already committed to markets, mostly innovative, niche markets. Some we need to keep and market traditionally or to families that want to serve a healthy local beef product.

It has been extremely dry and we continue to pray for rain and moisture as we move into fall and winter.

By Brad Goehring, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

We only have two things going on right now. First, we are right in the middle of harvest. We just started on the reds and got through all the whites and so far, we are probably running a little bit above average on tonnage.

Every wine writer and all of the media claim that "this is an exceptional year" and I just chuckle at that, because how can it be exceptional if every year is exceptional? But this year, from everyone's perspective, is really going to be a good vintage. For the first time in recent memory, the maturity and flavor of the grapes is actually above the sugar content. So, this year is truly going to be a good vintage.

We are fortunate where we are that we have an abundance of water. The season was warm for long periods of time, but we never got any excruciatingly high temperatures. For the last couple weeks, we have been enjoying cool nights with temperatures into the 40s. That also puts a lot of body into the wine, because the winegrapes enjoy warm days and cool nights.

The other activity that we have going on is that we are still doing some training on young vineyards that are growing.

This has been one of our slowest years ever for vineyard development, primarily because the market is in equilibrium right now and there are a lot of other crops that are more attractive with regard to labor and not having the hassle with wineries at harvest. A lot of growers are putting in almonds and walnuts.

By John Vevoda, Humboldt County organic dairy farmer

I'm hauling hay. I buy it. At the beginning of the week, I was hauling it out of the valley, but at the end of the week, I go up to Klamath Falls and haul out of there.

It's getting real dry. It's typical of fall. Pretty soon, the guys who have corn will be chopping corn. It's that time of year. Most of the guys out in the hills ship their calves. In our ranch out there, we've already shipped calves.

Farmers up in the Klamath Basin got shorted on water and it affects us down here, because a lot of our organic hay comes out of there. Guys who do have the hay want a very high price. Now, with fuel prices and everything the California Legislature has done, it has really jacked up the price. It compounds things because our milk prices are down, even on the organic side. I hate to be negative, but it's starting to become pretty trying. You have a lot of large herds in other states. I know because I've driven by them.

This is a different game than what I'm used to. I've been through low milk prices, but it was always when we were conventional. Now that we're organic, I didn't envision the big herds jumping into it like they have.

We're trying to weather the storm. We're turning off the irrigation as soon as we can, because the nights are starting to get cold, and as much as we're paying for irrigation—$18,000 a month—we're not getting a return on it. Last fall, we put in a new pivot and that has really paid dividends on irrigation this year. My son can run it from his telephone. It has an electric motor on it and he can control it with his telephone. There's no manual labor. We put in new free stalls, and that helped tremendously. There are other things we want to do, but we can't afford it. We're just trying to save labor where we can and be as efficient as possible.

We did reduce our herd, just like our processor wanted us to do. And now our processor is turning around and saying, "Can you produce a little bit more? We're not going to pay a full price for it, but you can produce a little bit more?" We're not yo-yos here; you can't just turn it on and turn it off. So it makes it really difficult. We just have to wait for new heifers. We're a closed herd, so we just deal with what we have. But our cull rate was over 50 percent, so now we won't be culling quite as heavy as we were, to see if we can increase production. It'll probably take six to eight months to get to the production they want.