From the Fields® - May 15, 2019

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County walnut grower

I am so glad spring has arrived. This year's winter hung on longer than many of us would have liked. That being said, we really did need all the rain. The rivers are now all at normal levels and the seepage has quit.

Now that we are back in the fields and orchards; the list is long on chores to get done. Winter pruning was a little late finishing with the late rains. Currently, mowing strip spraying and fertilization is all taking place. We continue to replant missing and sick trees.

Last year's walnut market was lower than we would like, but with a light crop, we are hearing most of last year's crop has sold. We are also hearing the price is getting stronger for this coming year.

All in all, I think it is going to be a great year. Mother Nature gave us the water we need, price is coming up and our economy is strong. Hopefully, the insects will be easily controlled this summer.

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County diversified grower

We have had slightly below normal temperatures, although last week we were starting to get close to that 100-degree mark.

Over the past two weeks, we have had excellent conditions to germinate our cotton. So, our cotton is off to a good start. We are at about the fourth true leaf. You are always optimistic when we are off to a good start, and we've gotten a good start with the cotton. Let's hope the weather cooperates and we are able to get solid yields.

In alfalfa, we are just starting our second cutting. And so far with our first two cuttings, the yields have been good, slightly above historic levels. Demand remains very strong for domestic retail alfalfa. I would suspect that because the first three cuttings are generated for dairy consumption, we will see the supply of retail increase as we get to June and I would suspect that the price will start to taper off. But so far, it seems like the increased supply has not diminished the price much. So, it is a strong retail alfalfa market.

With our dehydrated onions, we have about another 30 days of growing and the crop to date seems very good. I thought we were going to see lots of fungus in the onions, but we have been keeping ahead of it and it doesn't seem to be showing up much this year, which is fantastic.

We grew some three-way and four-way grass forage crops and we have harvested that. Demand is weak to moderate, and I would anticipate putting much of that production into barn storage and taking it out later in November.

Labor continues to be a struggle. We have to get some additional labor, particularly for sprinklers. We have to get some additional labor for planting our potatoes in October and harvesting in February. And it is consistently hard to find qualified labor.

It seems to be that once we get a crew that is trained, the next day we get a crew that is completely different. It is hard to keep consistency like that and it really slows the process down when you need to retrain people. If we get 10 people and have to train four of them because they are new, it really slows down the process.

By John Vevoda, Humboldt County organic dairy farmer

This is the busiest time of year for us right now. We're trying to get our heifers out on pasture. Cows are all out on pasture now. We're trying to get irrigation going. We cut silage, filled the silage pits. Now we're starting on our hay, trying to set a price, and I just don't know where hay is going to land this year, because milk prices are down so low. I still have some left from last year that I have to haul out up north. The hills around here could use a shot of rain. Seems like we just went from mud straight to dust within a week. It's been warm and north winds are blowing, so it starts to dry everything up quickly, especially out in the hills.

For our milk cows, all the fields are irrigated. For our silage fields, they're all irrigated. Some of our heifers are out on nonirrigated pasture. We always hope for a late rain, but with the forecast, it doesn't look like we're going to get one. Once pastures are dried out, we bring the heifers home and have to supplement them with hay and a little bit of silage.

I'm in negotiations with my alfalfa growers right now. We're not that far apart, but I hate to quote any prices right now. Seems like quite a few of the growers want me to set the price and I'm not into setting a price. I've been watching the market, but it's really what we can afford to pay in terms of what we're getting paid for our milk and what we feel as a dairy we can pay for it. I'm not going stick my neck out. As it stands right now, a portion of our milk going to the processor is getting conventional prices. (Hay) growers think they can get a premium for the alfalfa—and yes, there's a little bit of room for that. However, when you're getting a conventional price for some of your milk, why try to overproduce? It doesn't make sense for us to overproduce.

Our rations are about as basic as you can get. We feed very little grain and mainly hay and silage, just because we're not trying to buy production because we're not getting paid for it. If you're not going to get an organic price for your milk, why overproduce, because you have to feed everything organically regardless of whether you get paid for it. You could feed lower-quality hay, but we don't like to do that, because then it takes conditioning off the cows and everything suffers. We're just very basic in what we do, to keep the condition on the cows, to keep the production just average—and by doing that, our cows last a lot longer. Some of these girls are eight and 10 lactations. In the conventional world, it's only two and a half lactations.

We had a really good crop of silage this year, and our pastures look really good. We grow the majority of our silage, but we have to buy some. That price is down a little bit this year. There's plenty of it this year because they got a lot of rain, but everybody wants the high price. The guys that sold it to us were willing to come down on price as long as they got paid.

We've marked all of our beef calves now and they look good. We just hope and pray that beef prices go up a little bit. The beef prices are down and milk prices are down.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County diversified grower

It has been a busy spring on the west side of Stanislaus County. After a wet winter, things have dried out, crops and weeds are growing and everyone is busy.

Planting of processing tomatoes is winding down in our area. Most people were able to plant on or near their scheduled plant dates. However, there were some growers, including us, that got rained out in the fall and had to finish doing our groundwork this spring. With all the moisture we got this winter, many people were able to get away with not having to pre-irrigate their fields.

Lima bean planting is getting started in the area, as well as planting melons. Cherry harvest has been underway for a couple weeks now. The crop quantity and quality look really good. Hopefully, the market will support a strong price for growers.

The almond crop looks to be progressing well and most varieties look to have a decent crop load on the trees, as was mentioned in some of these reports from other parts of the state. The self-fertile varieties (Shasta and Independence) look really good, not having to worry about overlapping bloom with a pollinator. I think they are less impacted by poor weather conditions during bloom.

Walnuts have bloomed and the nuts are beginning to size. At this point, it looks like an average crop, but it's still early. The apricots had the best bloom they have had in a long time, and most growers had to thin for the first time in many years. The crop is sizing up well, and we hope that we will be able to find homes and markets for all the fruit. The rising labor costs and the market variability with stone fruit make it a challenging industry to be in.

Overall, the weather this spring has been nice and mild, and everything looks good after a good, wet winter with adequate rainfall.