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From the Fields® - May 20, 2020

By Brian Fedora, Colusa County farmer

What a crazy time we are living. While farming is and will continue, we have all had to make adjustments to life due to COVID-19. I certainly hope everyone is healthy. Currently, no one in my family has had the virus. It has been interesting—with school being out, we have had extra help on the farm.

My son and his cousins have all gotten to learn new things. Rather than be at home, they have been put to work. The extra help has been great and they have learned far more about what happens in the spring than they ever knew while attending school.

The walnuts are pretty much done with bloom, and nut set looks average to me. Due to a dry spring, we have already had to water earlier than normal. However, with the dry weather we are able to keep up with sprays and fertilization. I also think this dry spring has given the roots a chance to heal after such wet 2017 and 2019 years, where some trees got hurt. Sadly, this has also given the insects a great opportunity to get a jump on us, and the trapping numbers have been higher than we would like.

With an average crop, our hopes are that the market will strengthen. That being said, with the trade issues we were already having and every country having some type of stay-at-home order, the shipping of all commodities has slowed way down, or stopped in many cases. It remains to be seen how this will affect price for this year's crop.

I remain optimistic, even though I am concerned. I do believe that with all the adversity, we as farmers and growers will overcome. We always do. It just might look a little different than we are used to.

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

Unsettled weather the last week has made farmers in Mendocino and Lake counties nervous about disease, primarily for winegrapes and pears. For pears, the fear of blight and scab as a result of rain, and in winegrapes the threat of mildew, means extra spray applications and higher growing costs in a market already stressed by multiple factors. The rain has also delayed labor contractors performing suckering in winegrapes and may be contributing to higher wildfire fuel loads in some areas.

On the bright side, the rain is helping our rangelands, which desperately needed moisture to continue to support livestock.

The biggest issue for our region continues to be the Potter Valley Project, the PG&E hydroelectric project that supplies water to Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties and has monumental impacts to the entire region.

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County farmer

Where to start! Had a wonderful poppy bloom this year, but now they are all dried up, but people are still coming out to see them—they should have been here two weeks ago. They are not there anymore. I thought the bloom last year was one of the best I've seen, but this year I think they were twice as good.

Usually, my crop yield reflects how good the poppies are, and this year I think that holds true. It looks like I'm going to have one of my best crops ever. Since I'm a dryland grain farmer, 3.5 inches of rain in March and another 3.25 in April seemed to do the trick. I've been very busy cutting hay and just starting to bale. I have a lot of work to do.

Coronavirus update: It has really not affected me that much, except I find it kind of hard to get supplies and stuff because people are not working.

By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County beef producer

Well, what was setting up to be a fairly good year for the beef business has totally turned on its ear. I'd say it's done a "180" but to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what direction it's heading.

Then let's add another unprecedented California drought. Every time I think we've seen the worst drought around, Mother Nature shows me what she's capable of.

Despite all this, the cows are calving and we are marking calves. We are more than halfway done at this point. It was a tough winter for the cows. Many of them were not in as good of body condition as I would have liked them to be. Despite this, my calving percentages are decent. We are gathering up some yearling calves that we missed last fall. We are also planning to retain as many heifers as we can, to boost our herd numbers if possible.

The grass is really coming on strong at the higher elevations. We will have plenty of feed out on the permits this summer. Water will be challenging though in some places. I'm not sure if I am even going to bother getting the hay machines out of the barn this year. Up here, the April and May showers are crucial for the hay growth. We will undoubtedly get something, but we may scale it back and graze some of the pastures instead of hay them.

This crisis creates opportunities, if you can find them. I've been told you can't buy a freezer right now. They just aren't available. So, the next thought that runs through my head is, how can I fill those freezers? There may be an opportunity for some direct sales of beef with the closure of meat plants and the threat of stores running out of beef.

The importance of sitting down and planning your business is crucial, especially during times like these. The joy of being an essential business! Stay safe out there everyone.

By Tom Ikeda, San Luis Obispo County farmer

Back in the beginning of March, at dinner with a friend, we were discussing a new venture our company was going to initiate and his comment was that "it will be interesting at times." I replied, "Do you realize that that statement is similar to the curse, 'May you live in interesting times'?" Little did we know what was in store for us in the coming months.

Early market prices and demand were depressed in part due to E. coli concerns from issues in the previous two years. As local and state shelter-at-home orders started to appear, demand spiked with consumers starting to stock up on supplies in preparation for the unknown. This spike in demand was short-lived, as people altered their shopping habits—going to the grocery stores less frequently—as well as eating habits with restaurants closing.

For three or four weeks after the state shelter-at-home order, demand sharply dropped as the markets tried to figure out what the "new normal" would be and families figured out their new routines. Since then, the markets have stabilized, albeit at lower than normal demand, as people and businesses settle in to new norms. Items that have stronger demand seem to be hardier items with longer shelf life, such as cabbages, and immune-boosting produce such as kale and spinach.

As an essential industry, we are expected to continue to produce the food that families need, so we must continue to plant and produce even though the demand may not be there to make it economical to harvest. To weather the COVID-19 pandemic, we made adjustments—reductions—to our acreage planted for certain crops that we did not think would be in demand, to try to reduce our liabilities.

Some of the things we've done to protect our employees: We have given them facemasks to wear at work, implemented social distancing to the extent practical, training and education, increased washing and sanitization of equipment and more frequent sanitization of high-touch areas in the ranch yard as well as on the equipment.

Currently, we are monitoring the reopening in other parts of the country and trying to analyze when demand might increase to the point where we can increase our planting acreage closer to normal and try to make up for the unusual spring. Hopefully, the recovery will be as quick as the decline.

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