December 20, 2013

Farm Beat: Ranchers will talk about land-use changes

Cattle ranchers will talk in Oakdale next month about the encroachment of high-value almond and walnut orchards onto rangeland they have used for decades. The ninth annual summit of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition also will feature talks on wildlife habitat, beef marketing and other topics.

Cattle ranchers can make as little as $1 per acre per year on the rangeland that flanks the San Joaquin Valley, organizers of an upcoming event said.

The land has little irrigation. And as the past three years have shown, the rain can fall short, forcing ranchers to space their cattle farther apart or send them to market below ideal weight.

They worry about encroachment by higher-value crops – such as almonds, walnuts or grapes – watered by wells that the growers can afford to drill.

Land conversion is one of the topics of the ninth annual summit of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, set for Jan. 21-22 in Oakdale.

The first day will feature topics such as beef marketing, the threat from high-value crops and the ways rangeland provides wildlife habitat. The second day will be a tour of nearby ranches.

“This event is a time for ranchers to showcase their positive role in stewarding California’s wide open spaces and their contributions to the state’s economy,” said Tim Koopmann, an Alameda County rancher and president of the California Cattlemen’s Association, in a news release.

The organizers invite ranchers, researchers, land managers, agency representatives, conservationists and others interested in the state’s rangelands.

The summit is co-sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension and numerous other partners.

Little rain

Cattle ranchers have a more immediate concern – a shortage of the rain that usually falls this time of year, helping to grow grasses that will get them well into spring.

California is entering its third straight dry winter. The past two years, well-timed spring storms helped grow the grasses that had germinated the previous fall, said an email from Theresa Becchetti, livestock and natural resource adviser for the Cooperative Extension in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

“Unfortunately, the residual dry matter (old grass left at the end of last grazing season) that ranchers leave for insurance to protect the soil, encourage new grass growth and provide dry feed for the fall is quickly disappearing and ranchers are again having to feed hay,” she said.

Becchetti did note that eastern Stanislaus County is in somewhat better shape because it got relatively more rain from the few storms this fall.

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