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From the Fields® - April 6, 2022

By Grant Chaffin, Riverside County farmer

We're in the second cutting of alfalfa. Demand is unusually strong right now. I've never seen demand like this before. There's a serious shortage of alfalfa. I'm getting calls for all three types of alfalfa—for retail, dairy and export. I've never seen prices this high, and it concerns me because brokers are not necessarily situated to handle carrying that kind of receivables. Historically, alfalfa would sell for $100-$150 a ton, and it's selling for $340.

What the market has giveth in terms of price, it's also taken away. Fuel has gone up. All of a sudden, the market was going up 40 cents a gallon and then 50 cents a gallon. Our phosphorous fertilizer for alfalfa went up 45% overnight. There's some materials we don't have access to right now, so it makes it that much more difficult to produce a marketable crop. With cotton, we're in the same situation with fuel and fertilizer costs. As for the cotton market, it was up $1.39 a pound for upland cotton. Historically, we trade cotton typically between 64 cents and 78 cents. We just planted our cotton, and we're seeing stand germination right now.

It's an incredible year. These prices are so high it worries me. A lot of default tends to happen when you see these high commodity prices. When we were selling alfalfa for $100 or less a ton, my margin was better because our expenses were so much less.

By Abi Dirkse, Stanislaus County flower grower

We're hoping to have flowers around mid-April to end of April. Mother's Day is our big push for flowers. That's the kickoff to our season. Then we'll have flowers through October typically, depending on frost. We're getting everything prepped and ready to go for the season. We're doing a lot of cleanup in the shop and cooler, and making sure everything is good to go. A lot of the garden cleanup is making sure the roses are clean and free of weeds because roses are disease prone, so the more weeds you have, the more likely you are to get disease issues. We're making sure that irrigation is running and that there are no leaks. We are talking about what worked well for us last year and if there are any adjustments that we need to make moving forward.

We're also budding our roses right now. We go through all the roses and cut them off to prevent them from flushing too early, because the stems are super short, so we try to get them to grow a little bit longer so the stem length is right.

So far things are looking pretty good for us. We missed that hard frost that everyone had a few weeks ago. We didn't have buds set on the plants yet, so it wasn't a big issue for us. This is our third season with the roses, so production is looking a little higher than the year before. Typically, they increase in production for a couple years after they get planted.

By Jeff Colombini, San Joaquin County tree crop farmer

Our apples are in full bloom, and we are starting our blossom-thinning sprays. We are also spraying our apples for fire blight and scab. The crop looks good on the Gala and the Pink Lady varieties. The bloom is sparse on the Fuji, so we're going to have a small crop. With the warm temperatures, it's critical that we protect our apple flowers from fire blight. That's our main focus right now.

We're done blooming on cherries. It's too early to say what the crop set is going to look like, but the number of cherries per fruit cluster is averaging between two and three cherries. If they set, we should have a moderate crop, which means we'll have good, large cherries this year.

With the dry January, February that we experienced, we are having to start irrigating the cherries. We don't want to irrigate the apples now because we have to continue to spray for fire blight, and irrigating will exacerbate fire blight. We did irrigate (oil) olives a while back. Olives don't bloom until mid-April. We're pruning olives. Walnuts are still fully dormant and won't bloom and leaf out until mid-April.

The February freeze affected our olive crop, even though they were dormant. My estimate is that we probably lost 80% of the crop. The cherries were in danger too, but we were able to turn the sprinklers on, and that moderated the temperature enough. We probably lost between 5% to 10% of our flowers.

By Madeline Meyer, Yuba County dairy farmer

With the seasons changing, the cows get to go back out into the corrals, so they have a lot more space and get to enjoy the sunshine. It's still pretty beautiful weather. It's not too hot, so the cows aren't dealing with heat stress yet. We're getting ready for the busy season though, because in the summertime, we're going to have a lot of cows freshening. But right now, it's been pretty slow because nine months ago we weren't getting a lot of cows pregnant, so we're using this time to just clean up the dairy and get ready for the summer.

We started raking the corrals a lot now that the cows are back outside. We've been hosting a lot of tours, and we're going to keep doing that, which is fun. Now that we're in the post-COVID era, we had an FFA chapter come up while they were here for the state conference (see related story, Page 3). They were from Lone Pine FFA, which is south of Bishop, and they had never seen a dairy farm before, so that was really fun. We've had the Marysville FFA chapter here, and we're going to have some groups of older folks coming through. Before COVID, the dairy used to do a lot more tours, and now that things are opening up more, we're getting back into that.

We did get an inch of rain (last week), which was wonderful. We absolutely needed it, but the fields are still pretty wet. We're trying to get rid of a bunch of our manures. We have so much manure water stored up from all winter long, especially from when we had the cows in the barn. You're going to have a lot more manure to handle because it's not getting raked up in the corrals.

Milk prices have been going up, especially with everything going on with Russia and Ukraine and inflation. We're getting paid more for our milk, but everything else is rising too, with diesel prices and feed prices. We're just trying to be creative, feeding some green chop to the cows, just trying to be the most cost effective.

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