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From the Fields® - April 15, 2020

By Ritta Martin, Glenn County livestock producer

The Glenn County foothills are turning brown in a hurry this spring, as we've had a far below normal amount of rain. Most, if not all, of the stock ponds are dry and water availability for livestock is becoming a problem already.

We will likely be shipping our cattle north for the summer about four weeks earlier than normal. The goal is to leave some feed on the ground for when the cattle return in the fall, so we're being careful not to overgraze areas that the cattle tend to congregate in, mainly around the water sources.

A silver lining of the stay-at-home order and no school for the kids is that they are able to be much more involved in the day-to-day ranch work than normal. Both of my kids have been spending a lot of time on horseback and helping with gathering, branding, moving cows, putting out salt and hauling water.

The warmer days this past week have brought out the rattlesnakes. We're on the lookout every step outside. Even with minimal rain, the weeds around the house and barn never seem to stop growing, so the kids will be doing some "ag mechanics" work soon with the lawn mower and weed eater.

We'll be getting ready to turn in the rams and bucks soon, to prepare for a new season of lambs and goat kids. It's also getting close to shearing time, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

And in the meantime, fingers crossed for strengthening and stability of the beef market.

By Ken Mitchell, Sacramento County farmer

Some really different times we have now. Friends are bored at home, but we are anything but bored on the farm. A dry January into February gave us the opportunity to get pruning , mowing and sprinklers moved in the walnuts. Having the time and good weather saved from hiring any farm labor.

Turkeys are growing well now in the juvenile stages and won't market for another eight weeks. That's good, because consumer buying has upset the apple cart in scheduling . Poultry products are evaporating as soon as they hit the market, simple, easy and frozen products. The turkey industry was off 5% in 2019 as the demand just wasn't there. I'm not sure if the current demand will continue and what the consumer demand will be after we get to some normalcy in life.

I'm optimistic that we'll have a decent crop of nuts and hoping our exports will resume this fall after harvest. Our club lamb crop was late this year and looks like many county fairs might not happen. This leaves us figuring out what avenue we have that might lead at best to breaking even.

Watching spending is something we're looking at closely. These are challenging times with real no direction at this point where we might be heading. As most of the time, those in ag persevere and where there's a will, there's a way.

By Steve Koike, Monterey County plant pathologist

Early-season plantings of coastal vegetable crops are leaving winter behind, but did experience damaging cold temperatures earlier in the spring. For example, cauliflower and broccoli crops suffered from freezing weather that resulted in blight-like symptoms that resembled black rot and bacterial blight diseases.

Early-season lettuce had frost damage, blighted outer foliage that was subsequently colonized by secondary decay bacteria and Botrytis.

Speaking of viruses, the important lettuce pathogen Impatiens necrotic spot virus made an early appearance in the Salinas Valley and was causing disease as early as February. Usually, this thrips-vectored virus shows up in April and continues to cause crop losses through the summer.

The relatively light rainfall through the early part of 2020 resulted in few foliar disease concerns for strawberries, and problems such as Xanthomonas angular leaf spot and anthracnose were not common. A number of Phytophthora crown rot cases were confirmed in coastal strawberry plantings.

Our lab is screening for the new strawberry problem, caused by the fungus Pestalotiopsis, that is causing problems on strawberries in Southeastern states; thus far, we have not encountered this pathogen on coastal strawberry plantings. Stay healthy, stay safe out there.

By Jake Samuel, San Joaquin County farmer

Here in San Joaquin County, we are busily working on preparing for cherry season. Although cherries are at the forefront of our preparations, we have already gone through the almond orchards and sprayed for the second (and third in some orchards) fungicide sprays. Initial fertilizers have been applied as well to the almonds, to push new shoot growth and give the trees as much food energy as the nutlets are beginning their cell divisions.

The early varieties of walnuts have already had their first blight applications, and in some cases two applications for the more blight-prone varietals. Our Chandler walnuts are passing prayer stage and the catkins are finally elongating, so we are beginning the blight applications now.

Rain has played an interesting role in the last part of March and early April, as we have seen nearly 2 inches in some parts of the county. This doesn't tend to hurt anything as of yet, only makes fungicide applications that much more timely and scheduling difficult.

It also allows us to prolong irrigation needs. Our cherries are moving right along, with crop sets variable throughout varieties and growing regions. In San Joaquin County, we are looking at a rebound from last year's cherry wipe-out from the rain. From what we can tell now, our orchards that were sprayed for early bud break are showing positive signs of good size and quality cherries. Our later Bings are looking healthy, as they are beginning to shed the jacket and are showing promise on crop size. If all goes well, we should be able to harvest and market an average-size crop. You should be seeing cherries on markets toward the end of April or by May 1.

By Norm Yenni, Sonoma County farmer

Most of my planting is done in the spring, typically mid-February thru mid-April. Often, we don't get going until March because of wet weather. This year, we had the opportunity to start late in January, and there was no reason to stop until finished, which was the end of February. Everything went well, no rain delays, no major equipment failures, just a real easy season.

Then, the rain didn't come. What we did get was little enough that the wind sucked it dry. My dad used to say we got a quarter inch of rain and a half inch of wind. This past week showed some decent storms, so there will be something to harvest, and we still have some time before harvest, so like all farmers, we keep hoping for things to get better. Either way, we'll be OK.

Grapes budded out early this year. Normally, that becomes a challenge to me, as the phenoxy herbicides I prefer to use will kill grapes. Timing worked out right this year, everyone is happy, and the grapes look to be off to a good start, and potentially an early harvest, which will reduce their chance of fall rain damage.

Cattle also are off to a good start with good pasture right now. But without rain, it could be a really short year. Silage crops as well are showing stress from below-average rainfall.

The elephant in the room is the COVID-19 virus. Personally, I've had nothing affecting me or my business yet, but with dairies dumping milk for lack of demand, with non-essential workers furloughed and with hospitals filling up, will there be enough people left to get harvest done? And, will those people be willing to do farm work?

When the restrictions are lifted, will there be a glut of higher-paying jobs from those now shut down? Experience has shown me that things always work out somehow. I hope experience is right.

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