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From the Fields® - June 2, 2021

By Terry Munz, Los Angeles County dryland farmer

I've only had 2½ inches of rain since Oct. 1. I didn't plant until the first part of February, when I finally got a little over an inch of rain. I only put in a little bit of what I would have, because it looked like a dry year.

The crop came up. Some got maybe a foot tall. A lot of it just dried up, so I was just going to turn my cows on it. I actually cut a little bit of it, just 20 acres, to see if I could bale it. I only planted about 120 acres, so I'm trying to figure out when to bale that.

It's the third-lowest rainfall on my records that go back to 1930. I average about 12 inches here. Last year I had 14, and I had one of the best crops I ever had.

I just stopped selling hay (from last year) a few weeks ago. I had to peddle it all myself through the internet, because the hay buyers weren't offering very much for it. Hay buyers were offering me 6 bucks a bale and I sold it all for 10. I put it on Facebook Marketplace and doubled my sales. People came out of the woodwork. Most of my hay goes to horse people.

People do some filming here on the ranch occasionally. I had Channing Tatum come up and do a scene for one of his movies. That helps with the bills too. They were one of the first ones to come out and do a production—I think this was October. They had all these protocols. I had to get COVID tested every day that I was working here, and everyone was wearing a mask. They were like guinea pigs for all the other productions that started up about that time. They actually set up a rain scene on one of my barns, and that was the most rain I got all year.

By Derrick Lum, Solano County farmer

After irrigation in the persimmons, I'm mowing the cover crop down because it's a no-till orchard. It looks like they're needing another irrigation because of the drought year that we're having.

That's a problem I'm seeing in the trees and in the row crops that we're farming. We have to come back sooner to irrigate because we've had no rain. The submoisture is not there, and you've got a lot of winds this year, which have been wicking the moisture out from the top.

Some (water) districts have cut back farmers due to the drought. My area is all right. We got a full allotment for this year. I just hope it rains this fall, so we can keep that.

The persimmon fruit is set. They're about three-quarters to 1 inch in size. It looks like a good crop, just like in my olives. My olive oil trees are bearing every other year, and this is a good-bearing year.

The sweet corn is growing good. All the other crops that we're planting and transplanting are good. They just need a lot more care this year on irrigation to keep them going.

The farmgate prices look pretty good on the wheat and safflower, but on the flipside, we didn't get any spring rains for them. We can have a pinch crop on the wheat.

We're seeing a lot of our expenses skyrocket. Cost of fuel, fertilizers and products that we use to farm has risen, so it's a trying year for farmers.

We've got peppers, squash and zucchini growing. We're direct-marketing those crops. I hope (the market) is good as the pandemic gets over. With prices of crops, I hope they can offset the rise of all these expenses to operate our farm, so we could pay all these bills and have some profit at the end of the year.

By Lee McCorkle, Glenn County farmer

My first planting of rice was April 20, which is the earliest I ever planted. It was a dry year, so we were ready to plant early, but we couldn't get enough water to plant everything early, so they staggered us out.

My last planting was May 19. I'm 100% planted, but there's going to be a lot less rice because of this water (shortage).

We have another 300 acres of alfalfa hay. It's in Tehama-Colusa Canal District. They originally got 5% water (allocation), and not too long ago, they said, "Nope, we can't even deliver that, so you're going to get no water." The only thing that's going to help us out is we do have a well there, and we will probably have to leave out at least 25 acres. Hopefully, we can get enough water out of the well. We may have to leave a couple of fields out, maybe try to save 150 acres or something.

We didn't harvest the olives last year. There was no crop because it didn't pollinate, and this year it looks like a small crop. It was supposed to be better this year. They're alternate-bearing, and we thought that was last year. This year, they barely got pollinated. We will have to harvest it, but who knows—maybe instead of 5 tons per acre, it might be 2 tons per acre. We might pay the expenses.

By Peter Bauer, Mendocino County rancher

Up here in Mendocino County, I was intimately involved in the million-acre fire. It burned pretty much everything my cows eat. We recovered what was left. We sold a bunch of cattle, and what we kept, we fed, so we bought an awful lot of hay.

We've had a pretty good calf crop. But now that we're looking at going back, the grass has not come back in a lot of the places that we usually graze. Any of those places that the trees really burned hot, they're still bare dirt. Everything we once knew as normal has gone out the window. It feels like we're trying to reinvent the wheel with how we run cows up here.

We're going to have to shift our program to an all-grazing program next winter, or we're just not going to be able to afford it, because hay prices have gone up so much that buying hay is not really an option.

What I have seen on the winter ranches looks fairly good, but it's not what it could be. We're depending on being able to graze on winter ranches this winter and not having to feed cows. We've got our fingers crossed that we can keep doing that, but we're hoping that we don't see any more fire on our grass.

We had about a third of (our animals) perish in the fire. We sold about half of what we had left. Anything that was old, even though it had a calf this spring, we've sent them already, which is something we wouldn't have done last time around.

Our standard operating process is to gather the calves up in the fall, and then we bring them here to the valley, turn them on some pasture and feed them a little bit of hay if we have to. We try to hit the market right after the first of the year. That's not going to be an option this year.

We're trying to figure out exactly how we're going to gather, where we're going to put them, when we're going to sell. Classically, October is a spongy market, so we try to avoid that. We may not have any choice. There's probably going to be a lot of people in the same boat.

In addition to that, this summer we're going to spend a lot of time rebuilding infrastructure. We lost five holding corrals, at least 3 miles of fence that's completely destroyed. We had some that were in the middle of a dense forest, and the fire went through there so hot, it just cooked the wire.

There was one fence that the firefighters went down with a bulldozer and they went pole bending down the fence. You're not just going to have to rebuild fence; you're going to have to clean up the mess they made. I can't even begin to imagine how much that's going to cost.

Hopefully, we'll get some financial help doing the repair work. The Forest Service has got financial help to buy materials, and that's already been approved. We're hoping to get some metal where we once had wooden corral, and make them resistant to the flame and try to harden our infrastructure a little bit.

The cattle that we have left, our numbers are so few this year, we're trying not to spread out over the entire permit. We're trying to keep all our cattle in one big pasture for the whole season, but the water is going to have to hold out for that. The feed is going to have to hold out. We may end up being forced to move them.

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