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From the Fields® - March 16, 2022

By Bruce Fry, San Joaquin County winegrape grower

Bud break in the winegrapes hasn't happened yet. There might be a little bit starting to show up, but from what I see, it is likely five to seven days later than last year. Everyone in the Lodi area is finishing up pruning. The labor situation is short and shorter than last year. A lot of growers are doing piece work instead of hourly work, because of the cost of the hourly wage, and are trying to keep the pruning cost down.

Irrigation is going to start early. Water is a huge concern. Here we are in the third year of drought. In the Lodi area, we got more rain this year than last year or the year before, but we're still not at normal supplies. We're still lacking a lot of rainfall. We got some good, deep moisture, but the top (soil) moisture is dissipating. The forecast is dry, so there's nothing coming. It is very concerning, but as a farmer, you have to deal with Mother Nature.

Related to the 2021 wine crop, every block seemed to be a little bit different. Some were average and some were a little bit above average, so it was a mixed bag. Wineries are looking to buy grapes, but there's not a lot available due to those who got a couple-year contract last year, so there's not a lot of open fruit. Hopefully, that will keep the market strong. It depends on the sales, but many are saying that the market outlook for winegrapes seems to be positive.

By David Sasuga, San Diego County farmer

Labor is still tight, and it is difficult to attract and retain workers. As a consequence, our wages are going up even beyond the mandatory state increase. This is combined with increased costs for fuel, fertilizer and other raw materials, and is further complicated by supply-chain issues. The Omicron variant exacerbated the labor crunch, causing absences, resulting in more overtime, which was combined with California's new 40-hour workweek for agricultural workers. Farms, nurseries and landscapers are competing for the same labor pool. There's additional competition from other trades and service industries. We raised our prices, but not nearly enough to keep up with the increased costs we are experiencing. This has been incredibly challenging, and it demonstrates that being prepared for the tough times is how you survive. In our case, being prepared among other things meant maintaining a strong balance sheet with minimal debt.

Fortunately, the market for herbs and vegetables (our products) and ornamental plant products (many of our neighbors') is very strong and the outlook is good. We are definitely beyond the recovery mode and back to a very strong growth scenario. Our product is used primarily in restaurants, so as COVID rules are relaxed, our business is trending upward because of it. With travel increasing and with trade shows and conventions back on the schedule, hotels and restaurants are filling back up, and we are doing our best to supply them.

By Ritta Martin, Glenn County rancher

After an optimistic amount of rain late last year, the winter and spring in Glenn County have been extremely dry and warmer than usual, with the exception of the late-February freeze that devastated the almonds. Here on the ranch, we've only received a quarter-inch of rain since Jan. 1. That moisture was quickly eliminated with days and days of north wind. The rangeland feed conditions are more like early May rather than mid-March. At this point, a "Miracle March" will almost be too late, as the desirable native grasses have already gone to seed. Future moisture will drive a strong crop of yellow starthistle.

Local ranchers are already making the tough decisions to destock their ranches because the feed and water are gone. The cattle market volatility continues, and we can assume the prices will be driven down as dry conditions cause continued sell-off of herds.

We're about a week away from branding spring calves. The native feed has been short, but what we have has been strong; the calves are looking robust.

I have a small group of Boer nannies that should kid any time. The rest of the nannies kidded in October and November. I would normally hold on to those kids and market them at around 65 pounds. With the feed conditions this year, though, I will probably have to sell early. This will lighten the feed needed for them, plus make it easier for the nannies to maintain body condition and breed back, without a lot of supplemental feed.

By Daniel Bays, Stanislaus County farmer

It's sunny and dry. The almonds look pretty good. Bloom is finished on those, and the apricot bloom was a little spotty, but overall, it looks like there will be a potential for a decent crop. We had good weather for the bee flight, so there were lots of hours of bees out in the field working.

We've had a little bit of wind lately. Most of the pollination was done by then, so what that wind did was just sped up petal fall. We had a cold spell like the rest of the state, and it looks like on most of our fields, there was minimal frost damage.

We've been doing some groundwork for some of our tomatoes, beans and other row crops. I think this year we're going to have some tomatoes depending on what water district we're in, but a lot of our open ground, especially (ground) that is dependent on Central Valley Project water, is going to be fallowed just because of the 0% allotment. We're using wells in a lot of places already. We're getting pipelines and pumps and everything serviced and in working order because we'll be depending on wells throughout the rest of the year.

The recycled water that Del Puerto Water District is getting from the city of Modesto and the city of Turlock is a lifesaver this year. It comes out to about 6 inches per acre in the district, which is not enough to grow a crop with, but that's why we'll fallow some ground. We have groundwater, but we'll take that recycled water allotment and use that on fields where we don't have access to groundwater.

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