A new research project is examining how dairy cows make use of cooling showers when given the opportunity to turn them off or on and whether those showers reduce stress and increase milk production.
I can just hear the cows now: "Hey, save some for me." "How long you gonna be in there?" "Anybody got a towel?" "Who flushed?"
But seriously ...
Heat stress costs dairy producers nationwide about $900 million annually in decreased milk production.
And this research is not aimed at putting costly showers into barns. It's intended to find out what cows want -- at what temperatures might they seek cool water from misters, what part of their body do they want water applied to and what time of day do they prize access to the water. So says Cassandra Tucker, assistant professor and livestock welfare expert with the University of California at Davis.
The study is paid for by the Whole Foods Market Animal Compassion Foundation.
And it's clearly intended to arrive at happier cows.
Leaving Las Valley?
Uncertainty about the future for water in California has some central San Joaquin Valley farming enterprises looking elsewhere.
The issue transcended rhetoric or mere musings recently when A&P Growers Cooperative in Tulare announced it will purchase Pistachio Corp. of Arizona, based in Tucson.
The reason cited by Tom Johnson, the cooperative's president: "We had planned to expand our acreage in California. However, the current water situation is having a very negative effect on our operations."
Though the cooperative's preference was to expand locally, Johnson said, it was "not in our best interest to plant additional acreage in this state" until "this water situation in California is resolved."
Jim Zion, managing partner of Meridian Nut Growers, which is owned by A&P, said most of the cooperative's pistachio acreage is in the Lost Hills area in Kern County, and water for those orchards comes through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Berenda Mesa Water District.
Zion said many of his company's almond trees were 26 years old, and there were plans to pull them out and replant with pistachios.
Now, he said, 1,000 acres stand fallow where pistachios were not substituted for almonds.
"This is definitely hard core," Zion said. He said it would have been unthinkable five years ago for his company or the cooperative to look to another state to secure pistachio acreage.
And last month in Fresno, Stuart Woolf, who heads Woolf Farming in Huron, told a congressional subcommittee that if his family is to grow its agricultural enterprises, it likely will not be in California.
More recently, Woolf said "a large, branded food company" questioned whether the region will be able to supply the processing tomato products it needs. "I have to look at where I'm going to spend my next dollar, and right now I can't stand up in front of my family and say it's going to be south of the Delta -- that I'm going to recommend buying more land or expanding plants. I don't want to put more chips on the table with that level of risk."
Woolf Enterprises now has no holdings outside the region, but its goods are marketed globally, and Woolf frequently rubs elbows with industry leaders from Portugal, Spain, Turkey, China and elsewhere.
"We may look at opportunities in Turkey, for example, but we're anxious about political instability," Woolf said. "Do I partner with people I know there?"
The Woolf family has ownership interests in Los Gatos Tomato Products, a Harris-Woolf Almonds plant, Huron Ginning, Patterson Vegetable Co. and a nursery that grows bare-root roses.
Those operations employ about 900 full-time employees.
The worms go marching
Army worms by the hundreds of thousands caused a stir in a Tulare neighborhood this week when they left an alfalfa field and crawled onto the lawns and -- in some cases -- into the houses of the people living nearby.
"They'd pretty much finished eating the alfalfa field and ran out of food and went looking for the nearest green vegetation," said Dennis Haines, staff biologist with the Tulare County Department of Agriculture.
Haines said the grower of the alfalfa field, which was less than 40 acres, had tried to minimize pesticide use because of all the nearby homes.
"It was mainly a nuisance," Haines said. "It's proof that God has a sense of humor."
But he said some homeowners were not amused when the critters first made their migration out of the field.
"When they first appeared en masse, it was not funny to those people," he said. "The worms are not very smart, they just crawl up any vertical surface looking for something to eat."
That includes vertical surfaces like legs.
Haines said the population of worms dropped dramatically when the grower mowed the field.
In time, the worms will become moths. And then, Haines said, they'll go looking for places to lay eggs.
Alfalfa fields will be at the top of the list.
The columnist can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6364.