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From the Fields® - April 20, 2022

By George Hollister, Mendocino County forester

This is the time of year when people are doing owl surveys here on the North Coast, and that's for the Northern spotted owl. This year, I've taken advantage of one of the contingencies and that is, if you do surveying over an extended period of time, you can shorten the survey period in a single year so that you can start logging early.

As dry as it's been, we're going to have potentially an opportunity to start harvesting earlier this year, so I'm getting ready to do some timber harvesting this year that I had to put off from a couple of years ago because of the oversupply of Douglas fir that was on the market because of the fires.

The lumber market is pretty good right now. When you go to buy lumber at the store, it's a really high price, so there's an opportunity to potentially get a better log price, which we haven't gotten for the last few years even though lumber prices have been pretty high if we can log early. This rain is really good for the people with livestock around here, but if it keeps raining, it might very well hamper my ability to log. If you are trying to do tractor logging, it can be too muddy.

By Kevin Merrill , Santa Barbara County winegrape grower

Irrigation water is a concern among farmers, right up there with the mandate that we don't drill any more wells without (Groundwater Sustainability Agency) approval. Related to (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act), we have some groundwater basins here that are high priority. We have some vineyards around Santa Maria and Santa Inez that are medium priority and have got their plans in and are waiting to hear back from the Department of Water Resources on whether they will be approved. One of the biggest concerns for agriculture, especially in the Santa Maria Valley, is there's no agricultural representation on the GSA boards, so we're fighting that.

We've had some fluctuations in weather that we are watching to see what effects it'll have on the vines. Two weeks ago, we had some days in the hundreds, and last week we got hammered with some cold weather in the vineyards. Some acres got burned by frost. It is yet to be seen what effect that will have overall, but it is concerning.

Sales of grapes from wineries are still a little sluggish. Wineries are not out making a lot of new deals. We are cautiously optimistic that the market will get going. We need prices up, but it's a slow start.

By Nick Rocca, Fresno County almond and raisin grower

In the almond world, the news is the freeze and the frost that came through and how bad it damaged everything. While it looked like it hit some places pretty good, here in Fresno County, we're looking at maybe 10% frost damage. That being said, it was pretty temperate last year, so the almond crop this year looks decent. It's not going to be a bumper crop. For the nonpareils and Montereys, it may be pretty average.

The state production numbers are going to be down. We're hearing preliminarily that people are thinking 2.6 billion or 2.7 billion pounds. Whether or not that's going to have an effect on the price is to be determined. Related to the port and export issues, it's definitely going to be one for the books as far as tracking goes.

For raisins, the fruit estimates for bunch counts look pretty standard. Luckily, the frost that came through hit right before the vines pushed, so they avoided that. We've had some spring rain, and that's been welcome. But all systems are go for the raisins. I'm thankful the grapes missed that frost. Now we are going to try to avoid some late-season hail while the fruit is small. Because raisins aren't the most lucrative crop to farm, we're deciding what we're going to do for the bottom line long term, especially with chemical prices and how expensive everything is right now and the lack of availability.

By Gino Pedretti III, Merced County farmer

Except for the lack of water, weatherwise, crops are doing good. We're right in the middle of our cotton-planting season. We stopped for a couple days with the cold weather but look to resume planting and finish everything up. This year we're growing about 60% pima, 40% acala.

We're on our first cutting of hay. We're waiting for the tests to get back, but yields look average so far. Price is really high for alfalfa hay. We're going to start cutting some wheat hay at the end of the month that will double-crop with corn silage.

We also have a small dairy. Milk price is really good, and the cows are milking really good. With the lack of rain in the last few months, it's been nice conditions for cattle, so they're milking extremely well. With the high input prices, we're just happy the milk price has gone up to where (we can) hopefully turn a small profit.

In the last two years, our nitrogen cost has tripled, and we're having issues trying to lock up UN 32. We've never had to preorder stuff just to make sure we have enough. Besides that, (we) hope our wells hold up for the year, because we're only getting a half acre-foot from our water district.

On the labor side, we're OK. We've had a few more people coming by looking for work than we've had in a while, but it's getting harder to keep skilled guys around. Training newer people in more technical positions takes a lot of time for a management team.

We also have a beef operation. We raise registered Herefords. We sell purebred bulls to seed-stock guys, and with the lack of rain up in the mountains, those guys have backed off buying bulls compared to a few years ago when they had an ample feed supply.

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