From the Fields® - April 3, 2019

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

On the North Coast, spring has been slow to arrive. Bud break is just beginning in most vineyards and orchards, and many varieties are still weeks away from coming out.

The benefit of the delayed bud break is that to date we have had no frost events to contend with. Another obvious positive is all of the rain we have had and the fact that our groundwater as well as reservoir storage is at 100 percent.

During the past two weeks, growers have been testing sprinkler systems and wind machines, and pear farmers have been starting their first scab sprays of the year.

By Shaun Crook, Tuolumne County forester and rancher

Most logging operations in the Central Sierra are still enjoying winter break. Winter is the time when yearly equipment maintenance takes place and when you try to catch up on missed family time from last summer. To operate in the winter, we either need a job with a lot of pavement or be in a place where the ground freezes hard enough that the equipment won't create any damage. The Forest Practice Rules dictate where and when operations can occur, and it is going to be too wet or areas have too much snow for an early season start this year.

Our company was fortunate enough to have a winter job along the highway, clearing material that burned in one of last year's many fires. We have around another six weeks before it will be completed and hopefully by then, it will be dry enough to start the next project. It has been nice to work all winter, but it has delayed some of the equipment maintenance.

On the cattle side, the rain has been great, but we are in need of sunshine and warmer temperatures for the grass to really start growing. The ground is extremely saturated and most projects have to be put on hold until we have an extended period of dry weather to avoid damage to roads and fields.

The foothills are usually a month or two behind the valley in terms of grass really starting to grow, and we also have green grass into the month of June in most years. We are very fortunate to have the rain, as stock ponds and springs were really strained in the drought years and this is a welcomed recharge.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County hay and grain grower

Sonoma County is ready for winter to be over. Everyone in agriculture has been set back by first of all the floods and then the rain that seems to come every couple days. Most of the cattle continue to be locked up because most of the fields are muddy and could be damaged if the cattle were out.

My operation has been at a standstill because we can't get into the fields for three months now.

On a positive side, it looks like with the cattle locked up, there won't be any carryover of hay. But I am probably looking at a really short crop because I am planting so late.

We've had three dry days and I am planting some oat hay that is kind of marginal right now. Every day that I've been out here I've seen someone stuck in the mud. I don't have irrigation, so it is important to get these fields planted soon, before it gets too dry.

We've had years like this before, but it has been quite a while. I'm looking at 1,500 acres to plant right now, and that is going to be a real test to get that all done here when there is still enough moisture in the soil.

By Jeff Frey, Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

It is always good to have rain, but we could stop with the rain now and we would be in good shape. We still have some wet fields that we can't get into yet because it could cause some damage. But everything seems to be drying out well, and I think we would like to see some warmer, not hot, weather with no frost. Frost is an issue, but we have our wind machines out and our sprinkler systems ready to go if we need them. We don't see any rain in the forecast, so we'll have to see what happens. Even with all the rain that we have received, our water costs are really high, so we probably won't need to irrigate for awhile this year, the way we have had to do the past several years.

We will do some spraying soon to try to get the weeds under control. With all the rain, the weeds have really been growing.

There have been some older vineyards removed and not being put back in. There have been some smaller, speculative plantings in the area.

We weren't affected by last year's fires, but I do have one client who was affected by the mudslides.

We haven't been hearing much from wineries wanting to buy grapes. It seems like there is a lot of juice left over from last year's harvest. But things hopefully will start to pick up.

As far as labor, things seem to be good right now, but we are still waiting for strawberries and some other crops to kick in. So, things are good right now, but we aren't too optimistic. We saw more grapes machine-picked last year and it is on the increase, but there are still a lot of vineyards that are hand-picked. About half of my vineyards are machine-picked. One factor in our area is that the wineries are fairly small, and they can't afford to use machines to pick a few tons.

By Doug McGeoghegan, Colusa County rice grower

Durning the last week of March, we were treated to another nice, soft rain and while I didn't get a look at a rain gauge, I would guess that more than a quarter inch fell here in the Maxwell/Colusa area. All of our fields are showing some standing water presently, with the Colusa Basin fields east of Delevan still draining waters from the last flood event, our third this winter.

With more intermittent rain in the forecast for the coming week, it is causing some all-too-familiar anxiety as the pages fly off the calendar: Will we be left with sufficient time to repair all the flood damage to the pumping stations, water control structures and roads, regrade the fields that are a mess from all the silt-laden floodwaters, and get the necessary work done in time to dry the fields sufficiently to timely plant a rice crop?

Our heavy basin soils usually require 35 days or more from initial tillage to flooding and planting. As optimum yields and quality are a necessity these days, the odds don't favor planting at the tail-end of May, much less into June. The weather for the next 10 to 15 days will certainly be pivotal, for us and many other producers as well, I would guess.

With the sharp reductions in the 2017 California crop (likewise due in large part to weather events), I understand there was little or no carryover of California medium grain as we coasted into the 2018 harvest and marketing period. With the 2018 California crop a "full" production year by all accounts, it has been encouraging to hear that prices are holding up reasonably well.

Unfortunately, we can no longer expect that small reductions in our California rice acreage will shore up grower returns as in the past. Competition from medium-grain rice from the Southern states, as well as emerging medium- and short-grain breeding and marketing programs from around the world, seem to be more and more a consideration.