Ranchers look to skies for more rain
Livestock sent to graze on idle fields, dryland grain, alfalfa
By TIM HEARDEN
WILLOWS, Calif. -- After a good start to the rainy season, California ranchers say they need more precipitation to shore up their rangelands for the spring.
"We're short of moisture," said Gary Soeth, who runs cattle and sheep in the rolling foothills west of here. "We got a lot of early rain. We had a wet fall. But with rangelands, if you don't have a good, wet spring, our rangelands suffer.
"The grass needs rain and we need rain right up until April to make it a good year," he said.
After a mostly dry January and early February, range and pasture conditions that had been so promising at Christmastime were reported to be fair to poor last week as cool weather and a lack of precipitation impeded grass and forage development, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.
Sheep and cattle were grazing on idle fields, dryland grain and alfalfa fields, NASS reported. Some supplemental feeding of livestock was occurring, although it was on the decline because of high feed costs, according to the agency.
Rangeland conditions have deteriorated since copious amounts of rainfall and low-elevation snow this fall had rangeland owners thinking they had at least enough moisture to get through the winter. The early precipitation came just as cattle were being moved to lower elevations.
Soeth said he recorded 15 inches of rain at his ranch in the fall and early winter -- a healthy down payment toward the average of 18 inches he usually receives in a year.
Rangelands in Northern California received a little help this week, as winter returned with some showers in the Sacramento Valley on Feb. 19 and heavy snow was expected in the northern Sierra Nevada.
A chance of showers was expected to linger in northern areas through this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
Among other crops, according to NASS:
* Warm temperatures and dry conditions have forced small grain producers in the San Joaquin Valley to irrigate their crop, while northern producers reported that fields were growing slowly because of cooler weather.
* Citrus and avocado growers continued to protect their groves from frigid nighttime temperatures as the harvest of navel oranges, mandarins, lemons and grapefruit continues. A small percentage of freeze damage has been reported for navels and other citrus varieties.
* Bud swell has progressed on almond trees as afternoon temperatures on some days have peaked above 70 degrees. A few blooms have become evident in early varieties in some areas.
NASS California Crop Weather: www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/State_Crop_Progress_and_Condition/current/current_ca.rtf