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From the Fields® - November 24, 2021

By Michael David Fischer, Calaveras County cattle rancher

Things have been better in the last several weeks here. At the end of October, we had a really good rainstorm. We had a couple of little shots before that in mid-October, and we've got several inches of green grass coming now where it's been extremely dry.

Our water situation was pretty grim. I was actually having to haul water to several groups of cattle. In the process, I had to develop some wells on solar, which were marginal because of the low water table. But now we've had this rain, and we've gotten over 7 1/2 inches. All my stock ponds are full. Numerous creeks that I have are running, so my stock-water situation is way better than what it was. The temperatures are pretty good for germination on the grass, and if it stays warm, we will be in fairly good shape. We've gotten more sprinkles here, which gave a little extra shot to the green coming.

Feeder prices are about the same as a year ago. They're not as great as what they could be. Butcher cattle are extremely low, which I don't understand, because when you go to the store, it's higher than it's ever been. They're just not paying for the butcher cattle. A lot of this cattle goes to hamburger, and they've given us 60 cents a pound on the hoof. You're paying $8, $9 a pound for hamburger. Somebody is making money; it sure isn't the cow guy. Hopefully, that looks better in the spring.

The rain was a shot in the arm, and it makes everybody feel a little better, because we've gone through a lot of hay, probably 30% more hay than I have in the past. I have a regular hay broker I've been going to, and it was tight. I've got two more loads coming. I've gone through about four loads already and had a couple of loads in the barn still. He was telling me that he had enough that he found in Nevada for myself. But numerous other ranches around said that their suppliers were running out, and they weren't able to get it. Whether they're actually running out or they're storing it in the barn, holding it for a higher price, I don't know. But it was pretty critical here weeks ago. Everybody was really grim because it was dry conditions, no rain in sight and no feed to buy. It has improved quite a bit for us here in the foothills.

By John Moore III, Kern County farmer

At Moore Farms, we are gearing up for citrus harvest and will strip the first of our grapefruit off of our year-two trees. Then we're pre-irrigating our spring potato crop and watching the leaves fall from our pistachio and almond trees. In the south valley, farmers have finished harvesting nut crops, and almonds and pistachios are now at the processors. Our grape growers are wrapping up their season, with some continuing harvest into December and early January.

Row-crop production and commodity prices are trending upwards, which spells good things for growers with open farmland. For the first time in a long time, row-crop growers can make profits on what has been a compressed commodity structure for the past 10-plus or -minus years. We hope that the ports will begin functioning and the export markets can return to our predominantly export county.

Obviously, COVID has had some effects, but we believe that the only prohibiting factor at this point is the supply chain and wild inflation. Costs have increased substantially for materials such as irrigation equipment, and there are some serious concerns that inflation is outpacing the price to the farm producer.

Producers with water availability will have the capacity to dictate some of their pricing based on food scarcity and less water-secure regions of the state. Kern County is typically strong in its water negotiation and contracts, and we hope to continue to receive surface-water supplies as established in the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, as well as the Kern River. We're hoping for continued rains and a wet winter.

By Theresa Jeffreys Bright, Colusa County pecan farmer

Harvest is about halfway completed, with one of three varieties—the Pawnee—harvested and in the huller. The Shoshoni, which are primarily a pollinator, are on the ground, but I could not get them picked up before the rain. I hope to begin shaking the Wichita, if there is no additional rain, and take them to the huller.

This is an "on" year for my orchard, so I am harvesting more nuts than last year, which was an "off" year. Alternate bearing is pronounced in pecans, particularly the Pawnee variety once the trees reach 15 years of age. Last year was the first year I was really impacted by this, with a reduction in yield of about 20% of what it should be.

I'm looking to be finished with harvest by Thanksgiving. That has only happened once before in the nine years I have been harvesting, so I am thrilled.

I am doing a couple of cool partnerships with my orchard. The first is I am providing pecan wood to a man who barbecues for a group of Marines and vets to help promote sobriety. He will be collecting wood in the near future. He is from the Bay Area and an ironworker and is hoping to serve the Marines at Fort Ord for the Fourth of July.

The second partnership is with a group in the Bay Area that makes pecan pies. This group, Uhuru Foods, sells pies to support a more self-sustaining Black community. They are helping me pick up limbs in my orchard for pecans. The pie group will have city dwellers getting an on-farm experience. They are making the switch to buying local pecans rather than big-box-store pecans, which are not likely to be grown in California.

By Ana Cox, Mendocino County goat dairy farmer and cheese maker

We are on our second year with the Healthy Soils grant program. We're waiting for things to dry out. First, we were dealing with everything being dry. Now, we're dealing with everything being so soaked. We need to get a little dry weather so we can get out there, spread some compost, get some seeds out in our fields and plant some trees to try to complete this year's criteria for the Healthy Soils program. It's been great; it's been a lot of help for us.

We've had about 80 acres flooded. We're in Little Lake Valley, so that ought to tell you something. But it's beautiful. You should see how gorgeous it is right now. Everything's green and just magnificent. Of course, all the geese are out there and join all the Canadian geese that come to our valley. They thought they died and went to heaven.

We're just super busy keeping everything going. The dairy is doing fine. The goats are doing great. The cheese business has been a challenge the last couple of years. It looks like it's starting to pick up slowly but surely. Some of the restaurants that we dealt with had to close. As a matter of fact, we just had an order go out for a new restaurant, like a wine shop in Mendocino. We're excited for them and excited that they're carrying our cheeses. Beyond that, we have our Harvest Market, the Ukiah Co-op, the Renaissance Market, Geiger's—those are faithful, faithful stores. That's pretty much it for now.

The goats are at the tail end of their production for the year. We're in the process of getting them bred, getting them ready for the next cycle, having babies in the spring and starting the whole process over again.

We had a good year of hay. We grow about 88 acres, and all that hay goes to the goats. I'm hoping our rainy season keeps going like it has; it would be an even better hay crop in the spring. With the sunshine, it just pushes (the grass) to grow. You can almost watch it grow. It's amazing.




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