Monday, October 17, 2016

To Rain or Not to Rain, That is the Quandary in Farm Country

You might call it the October quandary for Central Valley farmers.

There’s no debating we need rain.  But growers still working the harvest will say we don’t need the rain – right now.

For farmers, they’re caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place, the hammer and anvil or Scyclla and Charybdis. Ok, you get the message.

Dark clouds loom over a cotton harvester.
California is in the midst of an historic five-year drought and the Golden State certainly welcomes any kind of rainfall. But growers in the backstretch of the fall harvest would prefer the wet stuff hold off for a while so they can finish harvesting cotton, sweeping up the last of the almonds drying on the ground and picking tomatoes and other crops.

“Whenever there is a change in weather things really pick up,” says almond field scout Jenna Mayfield. “Everyone is working 12 to 16 hours a day.”

Across the Valley, roadways and highways are buzzing with farm equipment at harvest time. Machines are moving from field to field or orchard to orchard. Other equipment is hauling harvested crops to packers or processors.

The skies darkened over the weekend as scattered showers fell throughout the Valley. Madera County received about an inch of rain while neighboring Merced County received around two-tenths of an inch of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Fresno only had a trace of rain.

Threatening skies can worry growers ready to harvest cotton.
While the rain wasn’t enough to cause major problems for farmers, the storms did signal a change to cooler day and night temperatures and unpredictable weather for the rest of the season. The threat of rain is one more thing to worry growers.

In past years – prior to the drought – we often saw October storms send Valley growers scrambling to harvest their cotton before rainfall. After the rains, growers delayed harvesting to allow the fiber and ground dry out.

“Growers are checking the weather forecast on a daily basis,” cotton field scout Carlos Silva says. The cotton wasn’t affected by the showers. However, Carlos adds, “If there is more rain ahead, they will be worried.”

So what happens if you get soggy cotton? First, it can become mildewy, like a wet towel left rolled up for several days. The lint can get spots or become discolored, which translates in a drop in quality and a cut in revenue.

If there are heavy rains and winds, bolls could drop or the lint could become strung out and fall onto the ground. Wet cotton also can gum up the spindles on the harvesters. It also can clog machinery at the gins. If the ground becomes saturated, the machinery can get stuck.

For almond growers who finished their harvest, windy wet weather still poses a threat right now. Trees remain full of leaves. “We haven’t had a lot of cool days,” Jenna notes.

Wet leaves and wind can lead to broken tree limbs.
Cold weather is nature’s way of telling trees winter is approaching and it’s time to shed their leaves.

Jenna also adds the winds have been picking up in the past week. Wet leaves can weigh down limbs and any wind gusts can snap them right off. Trees can even topple. In the long run, broken limbs and branches can add up to a drop in yield next year.

COTTON FARM TOUR: Want to get a behind-the-scenes look at California cotton production? The Sustainable Cotton Project’s annual Cotton Farm Tour is scheduled for Friday, October 21. Every year, dozens of people take advantage of this unique experience, where they can inspect the crop being harvested, tour a colored cotton field, see a perennial hedgerow and meet with farmers before visiting a cotton gin. If you can make it, please join us, and pass the information on to a friend or colleague. You canregister hereor contact SCP Program Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or for more information.
ALMOND FIELD DAY: Learn valuable tips about almond tree pruning, salinity management and controlling navel orangeworm during the fall and winter months at an October 28 field day in Fresno. The free event will be from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 West Shaw Ave. The featured speakers are: University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) pomologist and almond specialist David Doll of Merced County; UCCE Fresno County farm advisor Mae Culumber; and UC IPM advisor Kris Tollerup. You can contact Marcia for more information about the field day. Continuing education credits have been applied for.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Fall Harvest is in the Air for Central Valley Cotton Growers

As the almond and alfalfa season starts to wind down in the Valley, we now turn our attention to the cotton harvest.

The fall is always an exciting time of the year for cotton growers. It’s been a long six months and now they can start reaping the fruits of their labor.

In the northern part of the Valley, harvesters already have been working the fields. “In Dos Palos growers are really going along,” field scout Carlos Silva says about harvest activity in Merced County.

Cotton plants drying in the sun after they were defoliated.
Further south in Fresno County, many growers in areas such as Firebaugh are waiting for the right time to defoliate. One grower had to ground the defoliation treatmentdue to windy conditions and had to finish over the weekend.

“Everything has to fall into line,” Carlos points out about defoliation and harvest timing.
One consideration for growers is the farm’s harvest capacity.  As a rule, farm advisors say growers should defoliate just the amount of acreage that can be harvested within 12 days after treatment. That will help cut down lint exposure to poor weather, which can lead to possible pricing discounts due to a lower grade for quality.

Windy conditions forced one grower to delay defoliation.
This time of year the weather generally cools down and there always the threat of rain – although the drought the past five years has played havoc with traditional weather patterns. It’s critical to harvest before rain or fog arrives. In the past, we’ve seen growers rush to harvest – working all night long – to pick their cotton before a downpour. Other times, we’ve seen harvesters sit idle in the morning, waiting for a dense fog to lift and the lint dry a little to reduce the amount of moisture in the cotton.

 Growers often will use harvest aid chemicals to speed things up. UC IPM cites these reasons:
·         Stimulate boll opening and maturation.
·         Achieve more efficient mechanical harvesting during good weather conditions and the availability of harvest equipment.
·         Maximize the collection of harvestable crop.
·         Preserve high fiber quality to provide maximum economic returns.

To help growers determine what type of chemicals to use, go to theUPM IPM cotton site about harvest aid chemicals.

COTTON FARM TOUR: Want to get a behind-the-scenes look at California cotton production? The Sustainable Cotton Project’s annual Cotton Farm Tour is scheduled for Friday, October 21. Every year, dozens of people take advantage of this unique experience, where they can inspect the crop being harvested, tour a colored cotton field, see a perennial hedgerow and meet with farmers before visiting a cotton gin.If you can make it, please join us, and pass the information on to a friend or colleague. You canregister hereor contact SCP Program Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or for more information.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Sticky Cotton Threat Ain’t Over Till Defoliation Is Over

Yankee great Yogi Berra.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

For baseball fans, it’s a popular rally cry popularized by the late New York Yankee baseball great Yogi Berra to never give up until the last out is made. For music fans, it’s the title of a Lenny Kravitz song about keeping relationships alive.

For Valley cotton growers this time of year, it’s a strong reminder to remain vigilant about sticky cotton until the plants dry up after defoliation and aphid and whitefly populations go away.
Whiteflies on a cotton plant leaf.
“The pests are still relevant. The numbers can really blow up in a few days,” field scout Carlos Silva says.

Whiteflies and aphids feed on the plant sap and then excrete sweet, sticky honeydew that gets on open cotton bolls. The sticky cotton will gum up machinery in ginning and spinning mills, bringing operations to a sudden halt.

Sticky cotton is a real threat to the industry, which has spent millions in the past to control whiteflies and aphids.
Sticky cotton can gum up mill machinery.

From 1992 to 2001, for example, California growers spent $220 million to combat sticky cotton. Studies indicate sticky cotton can reduce prices by 3 to 5 cents a pound.

It was a dozen years ago when a number of Valley growers ignored the late-season pest threat and their harvested sticky cotton created quite a stir among mills worldwide. The Valley’s reputation for producing high quality cotton, especially Pima – the Cadillac of cotton – was at stake.

As a result, UC IPM advisor Dr. Pete Goodell and other University of California experts gathered growers and pest control advisors for talks about how to economically control whitefly without building up pesticide resistance or resorting to expensive treatment programs. 

This season Carlos has found only a few fields with moderate whitefly and aphid counts and evidenceof honeydew build up on the fluffy cotton.  “One farmer had to treat his field,” Carlos points out.
Defoliation warning sign.
.Fortunately, the pest populations have been relatively low in the fields that Carlos monitors weekly. The threat will lessen as more fields are defoliated.  (Carlos notes that a few fields were being harvested last week.)

For those growers still waiting to defoliate, though, the threat of sticky cotton “ain’t over till it’s over.”

Meanwhile, Carlos reports alfalfa growers are winding up their season. Some fields are still being irrigated. In other fields, the alfalfa plants are measuring up to 15 inches tall and are couple weeks from harvest.

Monday, September 26, 2016

It’s No Time to Squirrel Away Those Mummy Nuts in Trees

Sounding like a broken record – or faulty CD – field scout Jenna Mayfield continues to repeat her message over and over to almond growers.

This time, though, Jenna makes another case after continuing to spot harvested orchards with trees littered with leftover nuts hanging on the trees: Watch out for pesky squirrels and other rodents in the future.

Squirrels can be troublesome for growers.      (UC IPM photo)
“In years past, we had so many squirrels in orchards. They will come before June,” Jenna says. Leaving nuts on the trees can become an invitation to these crop-damaging critters to bunk down in the orchards during their winter hibernation. 

In the Central Valley, ground squirrels breed from February through April and average seven to eight per litter, according to UC IPM. Normally, they will eat grasses and plants after waking up from their hibernation. Almonds become the squirrel’s food du jour after the nuts start to dry in the summer.

So here’s the catch. The squirrels may stick around and raise their family in the orchard if there are nuts from the previous season still in the trees.
Here is evidence of ground squirrel damage in an almond tree.

Ground squirrels “can damage young shrubs, vines, and trees by gnawing bark, girdling trunks (the process of completely removing a strip of bark from a tree's outer circumference), eating twigs and leaves, and burrowing around roots,” UC IPM says. Moreover, they “will gnaw on plastic sprinkler heads and irrigation lines.”

Of course, we can’t forget to mention once more that mummy nuts also become home to overwintering navel orangeworm.

“There are still trees with lots of nuts. It’s important to get your post-harvest work done. Don’t put it off,”  Jenna said. If growers don’t have a hand pole crew available, Jenna suggests going out with a leaf blower knock off the remaining nuts. 

Stink bugs are showing up in almonds.         (UC IPM photo)
Meanwhile, Jenna reports spotting stink bugs in the orchards. “That’s kind of odd.”  Normally, stink bugs are a threat from May through July. They will pierce through a hull into a kernel, causing the nut to become wrinkled or misshaped. 

 Black spots will show up on hardened kernels.  Jenna will continue to monitor this development.
In the fields, field scout Carlos Silva says many alfalfa growers are poised to extend the season into the early fall. Those who wrapped up another cutting this month, are now irrigating their fields. “They’re still planning to go into October.”

 In cotton, growers are mapping out their defoliation schedule.  Whitefly and aphids remain a threat to create sticky cotton.  “Growers will have to monitor for these pests right up to defoliation,” Carlos says.