From the Fields® - January 23, 2019

By Jennifer Beretta, Sonoma County dairy farmer

The end of 2018 arrived with us finding a new home for our milk with another company. The milk market is still not strong, but the price has stabilized for the most part. The new federal order is very confusing, and we as producers and processors are working and learning together.

On the organic dairy side for the year to come, we hope for better enforcement. I am second vice president of Western Organic Dairy Producers, and we have a lot in store to work with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and keep up with our efforts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on enforcement. I am starting my term as first vice for Sonoma County Farm Bureau, so 2019 will be a busy and exciting year in my leadership roles.

By Jon Munger, Sutter County rice grower

All of our rice fields have been flooded for the winter to get rid of the rice straw, and we are starting to see more and more waterfowl moving through the area now that winter storms have arrived in Northern California. So, we have a lot of birds that are now sitting on all of our rice fields—ducks, geese, swans and a lot of shorebirds as well.

We are just maintaining our winter-flooded fields and now getting into planning for spring planting, which entails prepping the fields, working on our budgets, getting our seed and chemicals in place. We are working on timing for planting and what we need to get going. There is a lot of office work right now.

We will be draining all of our fields at the end of February or first part of March. Depending on what Mother Nature brings us in March, we could be working our fields by late March in hopes of planting our first fields by mid-April. We will likely plant through mid-May for rice. That is the window we like to target. It all depends on what happens between now and then.

The good thing is that we are starting to see more storms coming in, which will bring snow to the Sierra as well and hopefully provide us with the necessary snowpack that we need to get a 100 percent water allocation come this spring.

Last year was a good year for rice. We had a good quality crop and our yields were right on par with where we thought we should be.

Our intention at this point is that we will be planting all of our rice fields this year. We have a rice dryer and milling operation that we need to continue to get rice into, so our intentions are to plant all of our rice acres.

China has finally approved U.S. rice imports, so it remains to see what that means at the end of the day. We will just be watching that to see what happens.

By Ronnie Leimgruber, Imperial County diversified grower

After record rainfall in December and January, I heard reports that we got 600 percent of average and I think we got a total of 4 inches. That's a lot of rain for us. We are starting to dry out and get back in the fields. We are getting ready to plant all our spring crops, our cantaloupes and sweet corn and field corn. In fact, we just started planting our field corn this week.

The winter produce deal was underplanted this year and despite the food safety scare that we had earlier, it has been a relatively good run for our produce industry. So that always helps everybody else in the valley because if our produce guys make money, they don't plant as much hay. So, we have less hay to sell and the prices go up. The produce guys had a rough two years, but this past year was fairly successful.

Hay prices are extremely high for this time of year. Top-quality hay is in very short supply and is demanding a premium price; the lower-quality, dry-cow hay is more readily available and there is quite a difference in price between top hay and lower-quality hay. Our hay price is determined by our export market, not the local dairy market like it used to be 20 years ago. Our export market is fairly strong, so that is keeping our hay prices fairly high.

We had a good year last year. Our spring crops are getting planted; the hay market looks good for the next five or six months and people are optimistic in the Imperial Valley.

By John Miller, Placer County beekeeper

Beekeepers welcomed the robust storms thus far this season, but it's now time to place bees in the almond orchards.

Nationally, forage for beehives is in very short supply. With 90 million acres of corn and 90 million acres of soybeans, honeybees find fewer blossoms on which to forage. The states of North and South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota receive 1.4 million hives that will soon be in California.

With 1.3 million acres of bearing almonds, the supply of strong hives almost meets the demand for strong bees. Beekeepers are investing millions of dollars in new climate-controlled buildings. These buildings provide safe, secure places for large numbers of hives. The science behind the building promises more bees will be ready for spring after a few months in storage.

An attachment to the recently passed farm bill includes an expansion of the Farm Stored Facility Loan Program. The program now allows USDA to loan funds to operators constructing temporary refrigerated storage facilities for beehives.

Beekeepers are still responsible to control varroa destructor prior to winter, whether indoors or outdoors. Clean hives going into winter usually mean good bees in the spring.

Another encouraging development is a collaboration between CDFA, the almond industry and beekeepers. With an October 2018 pre-inspection performed on 44,000 hives in North Dakota prior to shipping, those 44,000 hives will smoothly transition the inspection stations. CDFA Secretary Ross was instrumental in the development of this pilot program. The almond industry and the beekeeping industry hope to implement the pilot program into policy.

By Ryan Rice, Humboldt County forester

As farmers, ranchers and foresters, our job is to produce the best crop we can with the conditions that nature presents. In agriculture, so much of our success can be determined by the weather.

In Humboldt County, we have a unique coastal zone weather pattern that supports our agricultural community. The extreme hot temperature usually ranges around 64 degrees in August, with our coldest days coming in December with an average low of 41 degrees. Our average annual rainfall is over 40 inches, which grows trees, crops and green grass to support our local agriculture.

However, the excessive rain can also make it difficult to do anything from Dec. 1 through April 1 on a normal year.

This past fall was unique, as we experienced a longer than usual dry spell that was beneficial to the timber industry to deliver logs to the mill, but impacted the beef and dairy industries negatively. The dairymen had to irrigate longer, and the beef producers had to find feed for their cows, which increased costs. On the flipside, in two short months we have received an excess of rain. I spoke with a local beef producer just yesterday who was moving cattle due to flooding.

Our forests are improving with the present excess rain that we have received, and we are looking forward to some better spring weather. The lack of rainfall in the past few years has allowed extended forest management seasons for transportation of logs on gravel roads in the wet season.

In agriculture, we live weather pattern to weather pattern. We are preparing for the coming year and our community is working together. We are optimistic on what our future holds for 2019.