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From the Fields® - March 3, 2021

By Billie Roney, Tehama County rancher

Right now, our biggest concern is more looming drought issues. We're feeding our cattle quite often now. We have a couple of fields where we've turned cattle out, where we don't have to feed, but for the most part, we're feeding over half of our numbers, and it's quite expensive. Feed, as everybody knows, is very hard to get ahold of. The last that I heard, soybeans have gone up to astronomical heights, so I'm assuming that the feedlots are going to be experiencing some big problems, too.

One of the things that we're talking about right now is limited amount of turnout. We've discussed going to a feedlot, but that's a frightening notion right now because the prices might be too high.

We're lucky that we invested in good equipment and we can actually do a very good job of feeding our own cattle at home without them being confined, which is a plus. It's just that we're not close to any large packers. This is a problem with California. Most of the cattle end up going back east—Colorado, Nebraska, other places like that—and it costs more to get the cattle back there. We're not really sure which way we're going to go. These rains were nice to have, but we don't feel confident yet that anything's going to be normal, so it makes it hard to make those decisions ahead of time.

We're turning less cattle out in the mountains because of wolves. Last year, we easily spent $100,000 more just to take care of our cattle because of wolves, because we can't turn them out everywhere that we had turned out before. We're trying to mitigate that issue as best we can. But there's the added costs of going up there every single day and corralling all of those cattle and then letting them out in the morning, trying to keep the wolves from killing them, and then sending less numbers up to the mountains, so I ended up feeding all summer long.

The good part of that is I love feeding cattle more than anything that I do. It's a satisfying, wonderful job. It's enjoyable to be around the cattle, but it hurts because the summer is that time when you want to let them be out in the green grass. It's really sad when we have to keep them down here, which isn't the most idyllic situation for them. It's turned everything on its head for us.

By Jay Ruskey, Santa Barbara County coffee and fruit farmer

FRINJ Coffee has 70 affiliate coffee farms across four different Southern California counties. For those people that have mature crops, harvest for coffee cherries generally starts in late May or June. With the warmer La Niña conditions, we're paying attention to the warmer soil temperatures for the mature crops, and we could potentially harvest earlier like we did in 2016.

In Southern California, we got the southern end of the latest atmospheric river storm. It was really fascinating because here in Santa Barbara, we got 8.5 inches of rain, Ventura got 2 inches of rain and San Diego got 1.5-2 inches. There was a fair amount of hail, so a lot of crops got leaf damage and physical damage. The biggest talk in all four of these counties is the significant wind events.

We had several avocado locations that experienced up to 30% ground-fall of avocados during harvest. With lemons, there is a higher packout rate of wind-damaged lemons.

Farmers are beginning to look more at (adding) windbreaks, anticipating that wind events become bigger events. For some perennial tree crops that are bearing fruit in the winter, wind is not good. We can handle some rain, we can handle 20-mile-an-hour winds, but some of these wind events are approaching above 50 miles an hour.

We just finished harvesting our last crop of micro-citrus or our caviar limes, so we'll probably start again in June. There's two crops on passion fruit—a larger winter crop and a smaller summer crop—so we're finishing harvest of the winter crop of the passion fruit. We have cherimoyas, so we'll probably have another two to three weeks of harvest, although the winds have impacted those.

For Hass avocados, we can start harvesting those now into the summer, but we're waiting for them to get a little bit bigger. We'll probably do a size pick in the next few weeks before bloom. They'll probably be earlier because of the warm weather.

By Pat Ricchuiti, Fresno County farmer

We transitioned from stone fruit to more almonds, because we were fairly large in the almond industry as a grower, packer, shipper and handler. We started the transition in 2008. Our main objective in this transition was to grow less labor-intensive crops. With our almonds, it's all mechanical harvesting, and we're vertically integrated. We have our own huller-sheller operation, where we sell our own almonds and export them.

After 2007, it was a disaster in the stone fruit industry with pricing, and we decided then to transition out of it. We started pulling the trees out as we went and replanted them with more almonds and more olives for oil. The only fruit trees we have left are about 15 to 20 acres of about 100 varieties of different things that we sell at our store.

We focus on our olive oil and olive products. Our first crush was in 2011. Our family has been in the olive business for many years, starting back in Italy. We picked it back up here and decided to not only be a grower but also a miller. We decided to go organic to capture that particular niche, which is much more difficult.

We've also been in table olives since the early '70s. It's slowly diminished. We still have some acreage that we're keeping. We're developing another orchard for mechanical harvesting. I've got a field with trees that are dedicated to semi-high density (plantings).

In terms of the crop, it's too early to tell. We haven't even seen bloom yet, and that's way down the road. We could have an interesting "off" year or we could be in an "on" year. We did not have a really great crop last year; it was more of an "off" year. Hopefully, we'll have a good crop this year.

Almonds are in full bloom. We're starting to see some petal drop in some of the different varieties. It looks like a very healthy bloom. It looks like we're having some tremendous weather for having a successful almond set. However, it's too early to tell how much will set on the tree.

By Julia Oldfield, Sacramento County nursery producer

COVID last year threw us for a loop. I think all nurseries got hit pretty hard, pretty fast, and didn't realize what was happening. We cleared a lot of products and got a lot of new customers—a lot of people got interested in planting and vegetable gardening and fruit trees. This year, I think everyone's gearing up—preparing for, not mass craziness, but just having more product and more customers that are interested in growing their own food.

We get our bareroot fruit trees in January for the entire year, and we've already sold about half of our stock. We're going to plant more tomatoes and peppers and all the vegetables.

We're planting flowers and getting all the plugs or liners, the real small plants, growing into a bigger container to be sellable. We've been in high gear for the last couple of months, just planting, planting, planting and filling up the nursery. Now the sun is shining, so people are starting to come out, and they want a tomato even though it's 35 degrees at night, so they have to wait another month or so.

I think travel is not going to be what it used to be in years past, so people will still stay home. They might travel with their car, but probably not across the country and have the big trip, which also keeps money in their pocket, and they want to spend it on their house. Hopefully, they'll want to redo their yard or add some fresh color to their yard.

It appears we're going to be heading into a drought again, so people will be mindful about what they're planting and looking for more water-wise plants.

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