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From the Fields® - May 11, 2011

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County grain grower

I am just gearing up my hay equipment for the start of my haying season, and I will probably start cutting my dry farm grain for hay in the next few weeks. It seems like the grain is a little bit behind due to the cooler weather, but the last couple of days have been warm.

I've been having lots of calls from people wanting to know when my hay will be ready. I guess there is a shortage and people are having a hard time finding hay at reasonable prices. Traveling around my area, all the hay barns seem to be empty, which is probably why the prices have been going up.

It looks like I will have a pretty good crop as long as it doesn't get hot too fast. From six inches of snow the first part of January to an inch of hail about three weeks ago, I've had a pretty interesting winter. Unfortunately, when I had the hail it was pretty cold and some of the fruit guys lost their crops.

I had almost 17 inches of precipitation this year, pretty good for living on the edge of the Mojave Desert. I live right next to the California state poppy park and you would think that with all the rain the poppies would be good, but I think the grasses were competing with them too much and so it was probably just an average wildflower showing, not nearly as good as last year.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County diversified grower

With the wet spring, we are finally getting caught up on our field work.

The cherry crop here in San Joaquin County seems to be moderate in crop size, varying from variety and orchard location. This could be attributed to the unsettled weather we had during bloom. Harvest seems like it will be a few days later than normal. We are hoping that no rain comes during our harvest period. This would further impact the crop quality.

Most of the oat hay has been cut and baled without any issues of rain damage.

As far as the winegrapes, there was some frost damage on the west side of San Joaquin County. It was spotty from vineyard to vineyard. As we approach bloom, it appears that we are a few days behind normal. There is a long time between now and harvest, so it is hard to predict at this time if we will be on track with a normal harvest season.

By April England-Mackie, Monterey County vegetable grower

Springtime in the Salinas Valley creates the perfect photo montage. The rolling green hills are covered with fresh young grape leaves and lush green grass and the valley floor is starting to pop with green. Most of the fields have just had their cover crops disked under and plantings of lettuce and other leafy greens are beginning to take place; the young foodlings are starting to show life. Many of us have been planting since February, which has allowed for harvest of our winter crops, and the beginning stages of our second planting are already in fruition.

With the heavy rains that occurred in February and March, growers along the Salinas River were on standby waiting to see if the levees were going to be breached. Record rainfall and river flows were seen for a month straight.

The reason that growers along the Salinas River were hanging on pins and needles was once again due to the intervention of one environmental group, which singlehandedly halted permitted maintenance along the river. For years and multiple generations, a coalition of growers along the Salinas River has been obtaining and maintaining permits to allow for underbrush and invasive plant clearing in and around the channel. This is the sole reason that levees have been properly maintained and farmland has been spared.

As a result of the lawsuits that were filed, the levees did break in some areas, which put some growers in a rough spot both physically and financially. Since leafy greens and other crop fields were flooded, the growers had to comply with the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement guidelines and not plant product for 30-60 days. They all had to conduct soil testing from multiple areas on the ranch on a daily basis, to prove that no pathogens were present in the ground due to the flood levels. If all tests proved negative (which all did) then they had the ability to plant 30 days after floodwaters receded. Some growers, due to timing and the cost of testing, had to wait up to 60 days to replant.

Many growers are still involved in fighting the battle to create a viable and livable agricultural discharge waiver process. For those involved, the time and energy that this process has required has created a huge loss of time within our businesses. With the dedication of growers from this community and the help from the California Farm Bureau Federation, Central Coast Grower Shipper Association and other agricultural groups, the Regional Water Quality Control Board is becoming more understanding of the complexities and importance of growing food. But it's not over yet.

By Luke Reimers, Glenn County beef producer

This has been an excellent winter feed year for the cattle, with little need for feeding hay. There is still plenty of grass left in the hills, but they are turning quickly. Our fall calves look good and we are going to be worming and vaccinating soon. Once the pastures are hayed, the cattle will be moved onto irrigated ground after they are run through for their shots, probably starting within a week.

Some people in our area are already on irrigated pasture, depending on their winter feed situation. I think that every cow/calf producer like myself looks forward to seeing this year's crop sell at record prices and we are holding our breath in the meantime.

We have started to cut hay in both the irrigated and dryland pastures. Alfalfa growers have laid down their first cutting. Recent wind has limited the amount of good moisture to bale. Water is flowing through the local irrigation ditches and most permanent pasture has seen the first water. This year has given us ample storage of irrigation water in comparison to previous years.

The walnuts are pushing new growth and sprays are being applied for blight. After a great spring which brought nicely timed rains, irrigation has been turned on for the first time. Almond growers have been just as busy with their applicable sprays and irrigation. The rice ground around our area is all being prepped and planted.

The high commodity prices have given a lift to everyone, hindered by the rise in input costs. We are all thankful for good commodity prices, good weather and anticipate good returns this year.

By Pete Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

Here in Mendocino County, the weather has recently turned warm. There is a lot of spring growth under way. We have had adequate rainfall to make for a good feed year for the cattle. April was mostly cold, so we did not get a lot of growth and hay is a bit shorter now than I expected with all that rain. The warm weather we have right now is starting to make up for that. I just hope that the grass doesn't mature too soon before adding some substantial volume to the crop. Regardless, it will be hard to top last year.

Calving has been good. We will be moving them out to the forest permit any day now. We have two more ranches to gather and mark. We anticipate the feed out there to be excellent this year. We had a tremendous amount of snow up on the mountaintops. Most of the lower snow has melted, but there is still plenty at the high elevations.

Hay season is just about to kick off, unless we get some rain to slow us down. I think most of my machinery will survive another year. The price of diesel fuel is going to curtail some of our haying this year. We plan to windrow a couple of less productive fields and just let the cows eat it. Hay is vital to our operation here in the wintertime, so we can't let too much go.

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