Friday, February 2, 2018

Central Valley Program Promotes Sustainable Farming Practices for Local Growers

Good environmental stewardship and profitability can go together to provide quality products that our state is proud of. 

Cynics may think otherwise. But a group of Valley almond, cotton and alfalfa growers have proven they can protect our water, soil and air while making a good living. These growers are part of a unique program that promotes sustainable farming.

Coming off another successful year, the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project is recruiting new almond, alfalfa and cotton growers in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties for the 2018 season. The program is looking to expand its reach in the Lower San Joaquin River Watershed.

Sounds interesting?

Well, growers can learn more about the program during a field day from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Feb. 15 at the Firebaugh Mendota United Methodist Church, 1660 O Street, Firebaugh. Tom Casey of the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and Orvil McKinnis of the Westside San Joaquin RiverWatershed Coalition will provide updates about 2018 pesticide regulations and the watershed. By enrolling in the program, growers learn valuable strategies to improve yields while becoming better environmental stewards in today’s tough economic and regulatory climate. Sponsored by the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP), the program connects growers with some of the state’s leading University of California extension advisors and researchers.

Over the years, the program and its growers have gained recognition nationally and internationally.  Growers will receive these benefits:

·         SCP field scouts who work with growers’ existing pest control advisors to augment field scouting.
·         Six field days per year focusing on pest and crop management issues, crop diseases and management, biological farming and water and regulatory issues.

·         Access to top UC farm advisors and integrated pest management experts who will help farmers deal with current issues ranging from pest and disease management to irrigation.

·         Best Management Practices implementation planning and annual hedgerow seeds and beneficial insects, when needed.

For more information or to inquire about enrolling, please contact SCP Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or  marcia@sustainablecotton.org

Monday, January 29, 2018

Valley Cotton Growers Hope to Keep Up Momentum from 2017




California cotton experienced a nice rebound last season, increasing acreage to 298,000 acres, a 38 percent jump from 2016.
 
Of course, a drought busting rainy season that boosted water availability certainly buoyed growers and prompted them to plant more cotton. In 2017everyone is hoping the recent rains portend to wetter times ahead, especially after a fairly dry couple of months.

Breaking down the numbers, the USDA National Agriculture Statistical Services reported growers cultivated 208,000 acres of Pima in 2017, a 35.1 percent increase from the year before. Acala/Upland cotton acreage increased 45.2 percent to 90,000 acres.

Before the planting starts around April, growers will have a lot of winter work ahead.
The University of California Integrated Pest Management Program offers these wintertime tasks for growers: 
  •          Consider pest history and surrounding crops
  •          Consider crop rotations if a field had severe problems in 2017 with root knot nematode, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or seedling diseases.
  •          Look at precision tillage and ripping for areas with a history of soil compaction, particularly if root knot nematodes are also a problem.
  •          Survey and manage weeds. Record your findings and treat if needed according to cotton pest management guidelines.
  •        Select a cotton variety based on local conditions and climate and field history of verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and root knot nematode.
  •          Consider a seed treatment for pests based on field history and according to the cotton pest management guidelines for aphids, seedcorn maggot, seedling diseases, thrips and wireworms.
  •        Start planning for when to plant around March 5 by checking 5-day degree-day forecast and taking soil temperature.

FIELD DAY: The San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project is recruiting new almond, alfalfa and cotton growers in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties for the 2018 season. Growers can learn more about the program during a field day from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, February 15 at the Firebaugh Mendota United Methodist Church, 1660 O Street, inFirebaugh. Tom Casey of the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and Orvil McKinnis of the Westside San Joaquin RiverWatershed Coalition will provide updates about 2018 pesticide regulations and the watershed. For more information or to inquire about enrolling, please contact SJSFP/SCP Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or  marcia@sustainablecotton.org



Monday, January 22, 2018

Valley Almond Growers Are Busy as Bees This Winter




Things are buzzing in almond orchards. And that’s before bees start flying, doing their pollinating thing in the trees.

Yes, before pollination starts there remains lots of winter work for growers and their field hands. They certainly have the work cut out for them.
Almond growers produced a record yield in 2017.

Why you might ask?

Well, growers will be pressed to surpass last season’s record year. The USDA is predicting a new high yield of 2.25 billion pounds from the 1 million acres of almonds across California. Almonds rank as the No. 3 farm commodity behind grapes and dairy.

To help growers start working toward another record year, field scout Jenna Mayfield offers her to-do list of winter chores:


  • Survey the trees to make sure there are no more than two mummy nuts per tree by February 1. Jenna points out University of California researchers have found ignoring winter mummy nut sanitation leads to higher populations of overwintering navel orangeworm and greater kernel damage at harvest time.
  •   Inspect drip irrigation lines and sprinkler heads and make the necessary repairs. Growers don’t want to wait until they start irrigating next season and discover their drip lines are damaged.
  • Fix the potholes on access roads. Growers can scrap the dirt and level to smooth the roadway.
  • Remove loose or broken bark caused by shakers. These nooks could become winter havens for pests.
  • Survey the orchard floor for weeds and identify those that were not controlled by a fall pre-emergent treatment. Record the findings. UC Integrated Pest Management says growers should consider applying a post-emergent treatment in January.

 Here are other chores identified by the University of California Integrated Pest Management program:
Signs of rust on almond leaves. (UC IPM photo)
·         
  • Take one more dormant spur sample this month for scale and mite eggs and compare results from earlier samples. Treat if necessary.
  •  Check trees for hiding places for peach twig borer. If treatment is needed, use a more environmentally friendly material or put off treatment until bloom.
  • Monitor for rust in orchards with almond varieties that keep their leaves during the winter. Treatment would come in the spring.
  •   Watch for gophers and mound-building activity.
  Growers can go to the UC IPM website to learn more about the year-round IPM program for almonds.





Tuesday, January 16, 2018

There Are Lots of Chores Ahead for Alfalfa Growers

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It’s finally feeling like winter with rain drops falling across the Valley early last week.

Growers certainly are counting on more wet stuff as they continue their winter chores.
In the coming weeks, we’re going to offer winter to-do lists for alfalfa, almond and cotton growers.

Alfalfa tops 60,000 acres in the northern San Joaquin Valley. Statewide, growers cultivate about 800,000 acres a year. So there are plenty of winter chores before harvest starts later this spring.

Here is a to-do list from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program:

  •   Continue surveying winter weeds through this month and keep a record of results.
  •     Determine weed management strategy based on 2017 weed types and abundance.  You should consider applying pre- or post-emergence herbicide or a combination of both, appropriate for the weed pressure; overseeding with grasses and legumes in older, depleted stands; grazing or cultivating with a spring-toothed harrow, taking care to minimize damage to the alfalfa crowns.
  •     Note any special weed problems such as dodder and perennial weeds. Manage, if needed, according to the pest management guidelines.
  •      Start monitoring for aphids this month.
  •      Monitor for weevils by looking for chewed leaves, especially on stands putting on new growth. Take sweep-net samples when alfalfa height allows and manage if needed.
  •    Look for signs of vertebrate pests such as gophers, meadow voles or ground squirrels.  Manage, if needed, according to the pest management guidelines.
  •  Scout for signs of stem nematode through March or April.

Growers can go to the UC IPM website to learn more about managing pests in alfalfa year-round.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Brands, Consumers Driving Force Behind Sustainable Practices in Cotton



For several years, we’ve written a lot about how a small group of innovative cotton growers in the Valley have led the way in sustainable farming practices. 

Slowly but surely their support and advocacy is catching on. Just look at some of the headlines:
“Millennials Driving Brands to Practice Socially Responsible Marketing” – Forbes.com in March 2017.

“Sustainable Style: Will Gen Z Help the Fashion Industry Clean Up its Act?” – The U.S. edition of The Guardian of Britain on April 2017.

“How Clothing Brands are Embracing Transparency to Meet the Growing Demand for Sustainable Apparel” – Adweek in May 2017.

This trend is taking off and becoming a driving force in getting cotton growers to embrace sustainable farming practices, according Stephen Harmer, of Jess Smith & Sons Cotton, a Bakersfield cotton marketer.

Stephen Harmer of Jess Smith & Sons discusses sustainability.
“There is this huge shift going on,” Stephen told a group of fashion brand representatives attending this fall’s Cotton Farm Tour sponsored by the Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP). 

The 75.4 million millennials – the up and coming generation ages 20 to 36 – are behind this dynamic market trend.

Cotton bales are ready to be shipped to a warehouse.
“They want to see a sustainable product that they are purchasing. They want to see traceability. We see more demand for sustainable fiber, whether it is organic, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) cotton or Cleaner Cotton™. “More and more you are seeing sustainable products that are traced all the way back to the farmer. That is very common now. I think it will continue to grow.”

Gins use bale tags identifies the source of the cotton.
SCP has a long track record working with Valley growers to produce trademarked Cleaner Cotton™. SCP works with growers to follow best management practices and avoid using the most toxic chemicals used to produce their cotton crop. 
 
BCI is a global program in which growers adhere to various sustainable standards. Only SCP’s Cleaner Cotton™ can be traced back to the grower.


Jess Smith sells the growers’ cotton directly to textile mills, which allows the marketer to generate premiums for the farmer as well as provide assurance the fiber has been grown sustainably and can betraced back to the farm. The company markets both Cleaner Cotton™ and BCI cotton as well as conventional cotton.  
Dan McCurdy is a Cleaner Cotton and BCI grower.

Another selling point: The Valley’s reputation for growing some of the highest quality cotton in the world.  “Cotton is the longest and stronger fiber in the entire world. It is by far the most sustainable crop in the entire world.”

North Face's Backyard Hoodie made with Cleaner Cotton.
Stephen predicts China will become a bigger buyer of cotton in the coming years. China, he says, “is very pro U.S. cotton. They want to buy high quality, traceable, machine picked good quality cotton fiber, which primarily is grown in the USA, Brazil and Australia. We have a very positive outlook for cotton in the next three to five years.”

“BCI and Cleaner Cotton™ are becoming much more popular in the market,” Stephen says. “It is being driven by the brands and the consumers that are looking for the sustainable product.”
Because of this consumer trend, Stephen anticipates more conventional cotton growers turning to sustainable cotton production practices.

“You get a little push back from some (growers),” he said. But he adds that “a lot of them are smart enough to know if the brands and the consumer are pushing for this then they eventually are going to jump on board. The whole industry is really turning in a good direction.”

(Season’s Greetings from the Central Valley Farm Scout. We’re taking a break for the holidays and will be back and better than ever after the New Year.)