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From the Fields® - January 8, 2014

By Karen Whaley, Tulare County beef producer

Calving season for us has come to a close. We have a good calf crop that we will bring to market in late spring. The bulls have been turned out with the cows and we are in the beginning weeks of breeding season. With the cold weather, cattle are using more energy to maintain their body temperature, which increases their need for dietary energy.

We were fortunate and got a little bit of rain in November and hope for more storm systems in the near future. Unfortunately, the cold weather we had these past weeks has slowed down any growth we may have received from our November rains. The combination of dry and cold ground does not yield promising growth potential for our native grazing grounds. With the extreme lack of feed, many of us are feeding daily to keep cattle healthy. It is also quite difficult to purchase additional forages locally, as everyone is experiencing the same problem. I think it is safe to say all cattlemen are hoping for a wet winter.

By Orin Johnson, Stanislaus County beekeeper

The first week of January, beekeepers will start arriving in California to prepare bees for movement into the almond orchards. There are still a lot of bees stored in cold storage facilities in Idaho and Washington, and we will not know the condition or health of bees until those are removed and shipped to California. You never know about how many out-of-state beekeepers will be coming to California for almonds. Some will sit back and wait until the last minute. Based on the almond acreage, I'm thinking the amount of bee colonies needed is in the neighborhood of 1.6 to 1.7 million colonies.

Rental fee prices appear to be quite varied, from $150 to 200 per hive. Prices are higher than last year. The rental fee for bees has been between $135 to $150 per hive for about eight years, so this is the first significant jump. A lot of bee brokers are quoting $180. Some have pre-contracted their bees at lower rates; others are coming in high, so it is all over the map.

Demand for pollination is a known based on total producing almond acres. Supply is the tricky issue, with beekeepers being made up of independent businesspeople; we never know due to bee health reasons, what the supply is going to be. This time of year leading up to almond pollination, I'm working on equipment, repairing and building new "wood ware" as replacements.

U.S. beekeepers just reported the country's third-smallest crop on record and therefore honey prices remain strong.

By John Vevoda, Humboldt County dairy farmer

Overall, 2013 was a pretty good year. In Humboldt County, there were a lot of logging trucks on the road and possibly more logging activity than I've ever seen. The inland beef guys suffered, and some had to sell and cull quite a few of their cows. I'd say the area is down by about 30 percent on feed. Because it was so dry, our cows were out on the pasture all of the time. In the beginning we didn't sell them, but this winter we had to.

The water situation is scary for us, there's no two ways about it. Normally, we should have about 15 inches of rain by now and we don't even have five. It rained in September and that was it. Usually, I'm moving animals around because the river is coming up or it's getting too wet. Normally, we're giving our pastures a rest this time of year, but our cows are out on the pasture.

We don't know what we're going to do for water or for feed. We have to buy some feed to supplement because we have to pasture our cows. We depend heavily on the rain to get the grass growing on the hills, but now we're buying feed to feed them. We have irrigation for the milk cows, but we don't have irrigation for the heifers and young stock.

Everybody seems to be in the same boat. I'm standing here by the corrals watching the dust fly and I've never seen dust on New Year's. I've seen flood warnings, but not dust.

The one positive is the cows love this weather and they are milking rather well.

It is pretty scary for all of us in agriculture. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the rain comes.

By Sasha Farkas, Tuolumne County apple and timber producer

In Tuolumne County, we're concerned about the lack of water, especially the dryland grazing guys who produce beef cattle. It will probably affect them the most. We haven't heard anything from our irrigation district on water availability for the year. I think it is a good thing that we haven't heard from them, but we're all kind of waiting to see, because that could change if it continues to stay dry. We're also curious to see the impact on the Tuolumne River watershed from the Rim Fire and if we do get storms, how that is going to affect the Tuolumne River related to water quality. It is not going to necessarily affect us as irrigators, but ultimately it will have an effect on our county and on downstream counties.

They are still harvesting some burned timber from the Rim Fire. Some of it is going to export and of course Sierra Pacific Industries is still hauling their own logs into their mill. Because of the good weather, the loggers are continuing to work and are getting some of this burned timber in before it starts rotting.

As for the apple ranch, we are in the process of pruning our young trees. We've already been through the majority of the older trees. We're hoping that we get storms sooner rather than later so we don't have to start irrigating again this winter. That always poses challenges because of the cold weather. The trees will start wanting to bloom earlier and we need a later bloom to try and beat the frost.

Our value-added stuff, our cider and brandy, are continuing to pick up and increase in sales and that is a positive. Agritourism as a whole in our county is doing fairly well.

By Marvin Meyers, Fresno County orchardist

We are spraying weeds and finishing up pruning almond trees. We are getting ready to plant some pistachios. We are planting them down where we have water, down on Mendota Ranch. We've got well water there, good water. The olive harvest went well for the olive oil. We had a big crop and we finished that about 10 days ago. In fact, we finished it just before the hard freeze. We bought our own machine so we were able to keep going.

In the San Luis Water District, obviously, we're facing a zero to 5 percent water allocation from the Bureau of Reclamation. If it doesn't snow substantially and get a good snowpack going, then we're going to have a very brutal water allocation. The best we could ever hope for if we do get some storms is probably 30-35 percent because the reservoirs are low. Then they've got the fish action that they will do at the delta and shut the pumps off.

I'm very fortunate because I developed a water bank and I'll be able to extract water out of that bank. We've doubled the size of the bank and we've got four more extraction wells, so we can take out about 10,000 acre-feet a year if I had to. Our requirement on the almonds is 10,000 acre-feet.

But, there's a lot of pain out there where guys are going to get hurt and lay off people. Everything in the row crop area is going to be fallow. There's nobody working ground in the Westlands and in the San Luis water districts because they don't know what they are going to have. I think a lot of guys are going to idle their land and sell their water to the tree guys. Why beat your brains out to go buy $1,000 water to farm tomatoes or whatever else? The tree guys will pay the big dollars for the water.

We're trying to get the governor to declare an emergency to make water transfers a lot easier north to south. Maybe some of the pain will be alleviated somewhat if the feds and the state get together and are able to transfer some water. That's the only hope. There are willing sellers up north and willing buyers down south, but you just can't get it here in a timely manner.

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