What’s Growin’ On? May

What’s Growin’ On …

By Wayne Zipser & Tom Orvis

 The old adage goes “April showers bring May flowers.”  For many crops in agriculture, late April showers – and definitely May showers – are NOT welcome.  Cherries are producing very perishable fruit that will have blemishes from the rain called “split.”  The fruit quality is fine but the consumer and export customers have been trained to expect the ‘perfect’ fruit – no blemishes or abnormalities.  The only thing that is affected is the look and the price. 

Apricots from the Westside are also very susceptible to moisture until some varieties start harvest in June.  And frost – growers will worry about frost for all fruits and nuts up until the threat is gone.  One hard frost (low 20’s) in the embryonic or forming stage and a crop can be lost.  For annuals – the entire year could be gone.  The bills still find the mailbox!

Does anyone else love the smell of fresh-cut alfalfa?  We sure do.  Oats, alfalfa and other forage grains are being baled and ensiled for animal feed.  An untimely rain when the forage is cut and curing can create mold and mildew problems.  This lowers quality and value – much less adding time.  What is ensiled you ask?  To be ensiled, a feed grain is cut green and packed into either a bag or pit.  When we talk packed – we mean packed by large eight-wheeled tractors or pressure packed in plastic and vinyl bags.   We commonly call this “silage.”  This is the part of the process where the microbes take over and start breaking down the starches into energy that is easily digestible for ruminant animals. 

What is a ruminant?  A ruminant is an animal with four stomachs!  Those four stomachs are the Rumen, Reticulum, Omasum and Abomasum.  These stomachs act as a series of grinders.  Cows, sheep, goats and deer are the most famous ruminants.  The largest stomach is the Rumen.  The Rumen starts as the smallest stomach and grows as the animal changes its diet from a mother’s milk to forages and grasses.  It is the start of the fermentation process.  It is a very gassy place and trust us – you will know it if you ever get rumen juice on you!  You may even wish you had been sprayed by a skunk!  The Reticulum is called the “Hardware Stomach” because it traps anything that should not get passed into the rest of the stomachs.  In general terms, the Omasum removes excess water from food and further reduces the size of food particles before passing them to the Abomasum for digestion by enzymes.  The Abomasum is most like other Monogastrates – single stomach animals.  When you see cows chewing their cud (the regurgitated forage from the rumen), you see a function of their digestive system in action.  They’re not just out chewing the fat with the other cows …   

Speaking of silage … This process will get repeated all over again this fall with all of the corn growing in the fields.  As many of the forage crops are harvested in the spring, the ground is ripped, disked and replanted with corn.  You won’t see this in an alfalfa field because an average alfalfa field produces for 5-6 years before it is torn out and put into a rotational crop. 

No – this corn is not for ethanol – it is corn for cows!  Many silage corn varieties in California have a growing season of 95-118 days in length.  The question is which one to grow?  One grower may choose a variety that is high in nutritional or digestibility value.  Another grower may choose a tall corn that produces lots of tons of feed because they need dry matter in their rations.  Some may choose a variety that has a little bit of both.  Speaking of rations – did you know that most cows have a trained nutritionist making up their daily diets?  Some of these highly trained professionals even have a PhD!  How many people have PhD’s deciding what we eat every day?  Not us! 

May is also a time to frequent the many local Farmer’s Markets.  You are the customer – ask questions of the growers.  Get in touch with your local food supply and get to know the people that produce you food.  Make an effort to put a face with your food and you will look at each meal in a completely different way.  And in the immortal words of my Mother – Fresh is always best!

This spring the rivers will continue to run high to release snow melt from the dams.  This is also a good time to be thinking about water safety.  Stay away from the canals!  They are not places to play!  While they may look smooth and placid on top, a swift and deadly current is just beneath the surface.  Combine swift current and cold snow water and you have a disaster waiting to happen!  So when you want to cool down on a hot day – go turn on your sprinkler or take a cold shower.  DO NOT GO SWIMMING IN A CANAL!  It is also against the law!

Some other dangers we are seeing this year are rattlesnakes in the foothills.  Early reports are of many more this year compared to the last few years.  Rattlesnakes are not fun to play with – especially the little ones!  The little ones are the most dangerous because they release ALL of their venom and they do not have the rattle warning system.  If you are bitten, get medical attention as soon as possible!  It will not be a pretty ordeal, but most people survive.  If you hear the rattle – stay away!  They don’t want to bite you any more than you want to get bitten! 

Rattle Facts:  How many times a year do snakes shed their skins?  (1 to 4) How many rattles do rattlesnakes add per year?  (rattles are made of keratin like fingernails – depends on sheddings)  Does the number of rattles necessarily reflect the age of the snake? (No – depends on sheddings and broken and worn off rattles.)  The largest rattle string we have seen is 18 from a VERY large snake – and it got away!  We weren’t going to follow him into HIS squirrel hole!

So in the month of May, be safe!  Enjoy the many Farmer’s Markets!  Be safe and smart on Cinco de Mayo!  Go to the local festivals like the Oakdale Chocolate Festival, the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee, the Los Banos Mayday Fair and the Lodi ZinFest – to name a few!

Thanks for reading and we look forward to next month!  Remember to support your local farmers and the products grown here because farmers feed families!  It really does make a difference in your daily life!

Stanislaus County Agriculture!  See It!  Feel It!  Taste It!



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