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From the Fields® - November 3, 2021

By Jerry Maltby, Colusa County rice farmer and feedlot operator

Organic rice this year is a good price, but the weed problem was as bad as I've ever seen it. The yields were way down compared to previous years. The only saving grace was the price is up. With organic, there's really nothing you can do other than deep water. Even that didn't work this year.

We've been putting up a lot of organic and conventional rice straw for cattle feed. I've sold quite a bit of it already and have more to sell. It's a good market. We only bale what comes through the harvester. It makes it a more-palatable feed for the cattle. Hay prices are really prohibitive for the commercial cattlemen. They have to use alternatives just to try to get by. Hopefully, we'll continue to get some rains to get some feed in the hills, as well as water in the reservoirs.

One man's problem is another man's salvation. We're at about 90% capacity right now in our feedlot. We still have room for cattle. Because of the byproducts we feed, we can keep them here until the grass starts in the hills, but it's going to be a while before that happens. I can actually feed them cheaper than (ranchers) can, simply because we have different byproducts. We can mix the feed, whereas most of the commercial cattlemen can't.

The Charolais bull market has been good. We still have more to sell, but the commercial prices of our cattle are still below where they should be. When you have packer concentration, as we do, they're controlling the price. Some of those packers are making $800 to $1,000 a head on their carcasses and only owning them for a matter of days, while the feedlot and the commercial cattlemen are getting no benefit from the high beef market in the retail stores. The dichotomy is unbelievable, with some of the highest market prices we've seen in the stores and some of the lowest prices we've seen for the cattle.

That's why we need more packing plants. Even the government is putting up money now to have small- and medium-sized plants built, because they can see what happened when they had a fire last year in one of the plants, and you only have a small amount of packing plants. There's no place else to go to have (cattle) harvested.

We need more packing plants in California. The trouble is most of the California cattle don't stay in California. Harris (Ranch) is still there and doing a wonderful job, but there's just not enough big feedlots, and the reason there's no feedlots here is because there's no packing plants.

By Joe Valente, San Joaquin County winegrape and tree-crop farmer

The rain that we did get in the Lodi area, it's an average of about 6 inches. But most all the grapes in the Lodi area were harvested. It's typically just cabernet that's left now.

As far as the walnuts, they were trying the best they could to get everything harvested. The almonds in the Lodi area pretty well got all picked up. It was a big rush before the rain to get everything down.

On the winegrapes, there was no issue with sugars. It was just a matter of trying to schedule and coordinate everything between the field and the wineries. With us, the labor was OK. We had enough for what we needed. As far as the trucking that we dealt with, everything seemed to be fine. It's not to say that there was not a shortage, but everything seemed to work out.

Typically this time of year, we may be going in and disking and cleaning up the fields after harvest, but with the amount of rain we've had this year, I don't see that happening. We'll probably start pre-pruning once we get a frost in the Lodi area and the leaves fall off. Some of the winter herbicides will be going on.

As far as the grapes, the yields were near average; it depended whether it was a younger vineyard or older vineyard. It fluctuated from variety, but overall, it was probably average. Because we did have no rain during harvest other than toward the end, the quality was really good.

I think everyone in agriculture is looking at cost and looking at availability of the supplies we need. Some of the tractor parts and PVC pipe for irrigation—I'm not saying there's a shortage, but it takes a while to get some of these products or parts that we need.

By Darrell Cordova, Stanislaus County nut grower

We're all done with harvesting the almonds, and we just barely made it with walnuts. We had a quarter inch of rain that slowed us down a little bit. Luckily, we had a dry day the next day and some wind. That dried things out enough to where we were able to get everything in. The next day, we had 2 inches of rain. The walnut crop will probably be down a little bit.

The Monterey and nonpareil almond varieties will be down a little bit from last year, but not severely. Almond varieties tend to be alternate bearing anyway, where they have one good year and are down the next. The crop was kind of spotty out there too. It varied from tree to tree. Weather during bloom wasn't too bad. We had bees flying, but we had a short bloom. Everything came on at once. I think it was hard for the bees to get around to everything because of the shorter bloom.

We are now doing all of the postharvest activities. We got a pre-irrigation of about 2 inches here, so that is good. I'm putting on compost, potash and some other fertilizer. We spread out the potash to give the trees some nourishment, and then the compost will pick up the remainder, plus add a lot of other nutrients. We've been doing the compost as a program to help everything out. On the young trees, we're doing 6 tons per acre of compost as part of the Healthy Soils program, which is in the second of a three-year program to give them organic matter. The trees are doing well.

We are doing some pruning. We had a hedger come in and open up the centers of the older trees because so much was getting beat up from checking sprinklers. We opened that up and shredded it. We had our own guys come in and do light pruning on the baby trees.

By Joe Fischer, Placer County rancher

We started off in the fall with a bleak outlook: little residual feed to go back to, little drinking water for cattle. Over the past week or 10 days in Northern California—Auburn, specifically—we recorded nearly 10 inches of rainfall over a three-day span, which put grass into full-germination mode and now growth. We've seen grass growth here that we've never seen before. The unseasonably warm conditions coupled with the early heavy amount of rain have been really good.

Fortunately, in our local water district, they were able to get the (Department of Water Resources) curtailment lifted and capture quite a bit of additional water for next year's irrigation season, which is definitely a positive for our producers.

Here in Placer and Nevada counties, we're so reliant on that predictable amount of water without having the reductions, either mandatory or voluntary. Both have big impacts to our farmers and ranchers. We're set up in a lot better place for next spring. There's still a lot of winter to go.

Our long-range forecast is still bleak, and as a cattle rancher specifically, we don't need a pile of rainfall to grow grass. It's more about the timing of those rainfall events. We're starting to see these compounded issues of drought that are magnified by years and years of dry. Now springs aren't running like they should. We had that 10-inch rainfall, and normally that should make creeks and streams run for quite some time. They ran for about 36 hours.

Most ranchers over the past 12 to 18 months just weren't having a lot of fun. We are seeing depressed cattle markets on the live side and increased supply cost. Coupled that with droughts, production loss and the mental toll that COVID takes on any normal person, it's been tough. But this rain provided a real shot in the arm, almost like there's a bounce in producers' steps.

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