By David Roberti, Plumas County Rancher and Farmer
Drought is our biggest problem. Many of our dry fields and pastures are likely to dry out three months earlier. Where we should have pastures by November 1st, they are as good as gone. We’re selling a couple of cows to try and stretch things out as much as possible. Our biggest challenge this year is managing the feed for cows from pasture as there is no growth from lack of rain.
We’re still fine with irrigation water. We have several deep wells that we pump from, but our surface water allocation has been cut by about 50%, which hurt a bit. Our biggest problem is the pastures and the lack of dry hayloft. We use this hay for our winter fodder. Here, too, we are getting very close.
On the positive side, hay prices and hay demand have risen sharply due to the lack of production in the west. At least the hay prices are high to make up for much of the added cost of electric pumping.
Also this year we planted some hemp again. As with anyone who has tried growing hemp, it’s not going nearly as well as everyone thought. We haven’t given up entirely, but we’ve scaled back a bit.
Right after we were planted in the first week of June we had some pretty good storms. We probably lost about 30% of what was planted, but we had some extra plants so we replanted some of that.
We use all feminized seeds for the hemp. This year we tried other things. We have actually genetically modified it so that one plant produces pollen that many plants cannot absorb. They have it built into the seed now, so how they modify this stuff to control pollination issues is pretty interesting.
Finding a market is really difficult. A couple of years ago there was quite a large supply, especially for the so-called crude oil process used to make CBD oil. So much hemp was grown and so much oil produced that in a year the shelves were full of crude CBD oil.
We just had this Beckwourth wildfire right in our yard. It hasn’t done too much damage to agriculture except for a lot of mountain pasture; it burned a lot of it. The entire area of Frenchman Lake, where we get quite a bit of our surface water, was burned. We are not sure what will happen to this watershed and what environmental impact it will have. It was a pretty devastating fire.
By Jim Spinetta, Amador County winemaker
In the foothills of the Sierra, like everywhere else in the state, it is dry. We’re only about 40% of normal rainfall. The stress is already evident in our grapes – a lot of Zinfandel, a lot of Barbera. They are now showing stress in July like at the end of August, shortly before the harvest. We are actually already seeing some veraison when they go from green to purple. We see how the grapes change color from stress because it is so early.
For several growers there is no source of water up here. Much of the water in this area drains and it is simply not available so this year we don’t have the water to water the grapes. We keep the grass that is there short, let the harvest fall on the young vines and thin it out on the older vines.
Sometimes it gets hotter in the Sierra foothills because of inversion. During the day it gets very hot, at night it gets really cold. That is why the Italian grapes do well in our region because of the hot days and cold nights compared to down in Sonoma. All French grape varieties do well in this area because they get the delta breeze that comes in.
The good thing is that our grapes are Italian grape varieties, so they are used to the dry conditions. Also, we only have drip systems so it’s very efficient. Over the years we make very little drip water so the roots are deep. We have 7 feet of crumbled granite so those roots are deep down there. We use St. George rootstock. They are very drought tolerant vines. To do this, we graft our offspring, whether Zinfandel, Barbera or Nutmeg.
We won’t get the amount, but there is always something positive in the grape industry. Hopefully we will get better quality this year because a grape only has so much taste. The more water you add, the more you dilute this quality. It was going to be an exceptional year in terms of quality. It will definitely be an early harvest. We are planning for the harvest in mid to early August this year because the yields are simply so low – and the earliest possible.
By Nick Rocca, Fresno County’s almond and raisin grower
Greenfield grape prices are higher than normal, so many farmers who normally grow grapes for processing into raisins choose to sell grapes for early-grade champagne or sell them to a dehydrator to make golden raisins instead of laying them on the floor and drying them. This, coupled with more acres demolished, means that the crop size for raisins is again smaller. That seems to be the trend.
The harvest is due to take place early this year. We’ll start pruning sticks in mid-August, and then the harvest will likely come in late August. After the COVID-19 pandemic, people are finally choosing to get back to work, but that is made worse by the fact that people make more money staying home.
We have 80 acres of almonds, and because I don’t have enough land to own the equipment to just harvest my ranch, we hire a harvest company to pick our almonds. For harvesting almonds, some growers offered to pay more for the harvesting machines, and that has driven up the hourly price for other farmers. The extra premium for work is that nobody can find someone who wants to work, so those who want to work are given extra.
Posted by Chris Capaul, Sutter County Farmer
I cut off 100 acres for the baby limas. They have just been planted. They grow to be around 70 to 90 days old, so plant them in June, July. When it comes to dry beans, the market is so dire. Since COVID, the Japanese have stopped buying like they used to because their country was closed. They use baby limas to get more out of a candy product. They sell a lot of it to tourists. They don’t have parties and there isn’t a lot of travel over there.
The total bean market in California is about half what it was last year. The price is not good and the competition from other plants that are better has made a difference in my opinion. I know there are only two or three people in my area who grow the baby limas. Most of them switched to black eyes. The black-eyed market looks better priced, but it still hasn’t grown that much in the state. People don’t grow them because the price isn’t that high and there isn’t much demand at the moment.
On some of my fields the water has been reduced by 25%. Half of my rice acreage was 100% (reduced). I couldn’t grow rice all of my mornings because I didn’t have enough water. I am creative with water, run a well and recirculate every little bit. I left out one field completely. I had to take out the preventive plant insurance route for it. We dug the well in the other field and it’s a fight. In hindsight, I probably should never have done it. The wells just can’t try to keep it covered because the trenches are dry everywhere. You’re trying to do everything you can. You don’t want to insure everything and have to make decisions at certain times. These decisions have been difficult to make this year.
I did a lot to get planted what I could. The beans were planted in fields that now don’t need water. We pre-watered them and planted the dry beans. These fields need less water, so I could apply that to my rice fields.