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From the Fields® - April 7, 2021

By Ramon Chavez, Fresno County farmer

Processing tomatoes, garlic, parsley and sweet corn is what we do. Right now, the (crops) are going OK. We're just waiting to see about this (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) next year. This year feels OK, but next year, we're afraid. We don't know what we're going to do.

We're transplanting tomatoes right now. We're already cultivating some. We've got sweet corn in the ground and parsley is up. This year, Mother Nature is going to play a trick on us. It's not growing as fast as other years for some reason, so we'll see what happens.

We got 5% (water) allocations from Westlands (Water District), and then they put it on hold. I don't know what that means. We've never seen that before. They're either going to take it away or give it to us late, when it's too late. We make plans on our crops and commitments, and if they take away that (water), it's going to hurt us. Our plan is to just grow them with well water. That's as much as we can do.

We normally go with the contracts that we already have established. In sweet corn, we already know (how much to plant). We've got contracts for tomatoes. It's just whether the capacity of our wells will be able to carry everything out.

Last year, we were afraid of what was going to happen with all the restaurants shutting down. But for me, it has been mainly our water situation. We've been more afraid of water than anything else.

We're going to try to do as best we can. We don't know what our wells are going to do. If something breaks, we lose a well. There's going to be some obstacles. Right now, I think we're fine. Next year is when we're afraid. We haven't even thought about what we're going to do or not do. We know we're not going to be able to farm our acreage, that's for sure. Right now, we're just going to live day by day and then see what happens next year.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County farmer

With a dry winter, farm operations on the west side of Stanislaus County didn't slow down much. Spring is now here, and we are as busy as ever.

The almond crop looks to be lighter than 2020, with the self-pollinating varieties like Independence and Shasta showing the best nut sets on average.

It appears we had adequate chill for apricots, and we had a good bloom and good fruit set in most orchards. Some growers are even having thinning crews go through orchards multiple times to make sure the fresh-market fruit is able to size up. Hopefully, there is a strong fresh market and processors are able to can, freeze, juice and dry the rest of the crop.

The severe alternate bearing we have witnessed in apricots over the past few years has made it difficult to maintain, let alone gain shelf space and buyers for our fruit. That, coupled with increasing labor costs, has made apricots not a very profitable crop to grow.

The walnuts are just starting to bloom and sending out leaf shoots. It's still too early to see what the crop will look like, but we hope for higher prices in 2021.

Growers are planting processing tomatoes in our area and getting ready to start planting lima beans and melons. Some row-crop fields are getting pre-irrigated, as there isn't much rain moisture in the soil.

With the Central Valley Project rescinding the initial 5% water allocation, I expect to see some fallowed ground in the water districts that depend on federal water, and increased well use. The current water situation underscores the need for water storage projects like the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir. In our area, we are faced with the problem of: Even if the districts have water stored in San Luis Reservoir or elsewhere south of us, they are unable to access it when low flows in the delta limit pumping into the Delta-Mendota Canal.

2021 is looking to be a challenging year, but we will survive.

By Gino Pedretti III, Merced County farmer

Milk production has been very good on the dairy this spring. The weather has been really nice. We've had low mastitis issues because of it being so dry.

There is too much milk on the market, especially in California right now. The milk plants are kind of behind. Our co-op that we ship milk to has only had some minor issues, but nothing major compared to some other places. But production and components have been really good for this time of the year.

The onset of warm weather means we're staying busy on the farm. We just finished green-chopping some second-year alfalfa hay; we're going to lay down hay this week. Hopefully, with the weather being warm, we'll bale hay very soon.

We started running the Lillistons (cultivators) in our cotton fields last week to get the fields ready for planting. With the warm weather, we expect to at least get our pima cotton planted. We're planting about 45% of our acres in pima and 55% in acala cotton. Typically, we shoot for planting by April 10, but this year, we're a little earlier with the weather jumping up to 85 degrees and nights being warmer.

On the water side, through our irrigation district, we only have an allotment of 2.5 acre-feet for the Class 1 of Merced County and we're in Class 2, which is only 1.25 acre-feet. We'll definitely be short on surface water this year. We're running our wells right now, saving our surface water for the summertime. We are pre-irrigating our alfalfa and wheat fields right now with well water.

As far as SGMA goes, we need to start reducing, but there are no firm numbers yet about how many acre-feet of pumping we need to reduce. Right now, we're still able to farm all of our acres and don't have a hard cap on how much we can pump in the Merced sub-basin.

By Ana Cox, Mendocino County goat dairy farmer and cheesemaker

The goat dairy is busy. It's just the beginning of kidding season, which is exciting.

We were part of a Healthy Soils grant through CDFA this year. We re-seeded all the fields and we put on our own compost. You should see our fields: They are so beautiful. We planted a new mix. We have a lot of clover and other things, but the mix that we planted added some new, natural grasses, so it's going to be good. It's just the best thing we could have done.

We applied for the grant last spring, but we didn't get the approval until fall. When we got the notice that we got approved, we were going like a hundred miles an hour, trying to get it done. It's really worthwhile.

The end product is always affected by the feed of the animal, obviously. We've always fed what is grown on the ranch, but the animals getting the new mix of grass hay makes the milk so sweet. It's a whole different flavor than if I was feeding other things.

Related to the pandemic, it was a hard hit to our business because we sell a lot of cheese to a food hub that was affected tremendously. We also sell product to the restaurants and of course, most of them have had to reinvent themselves and some of them have closed permanently.

We have tried to reinvent ourselves, which I think is what most businesses that will survive this pandemic have had to do. We're using a marketing platform called Barn2Door, to see if it is going to help us promote our product.

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