Monday, April 21, 2014

After a Mild Winter, Pests Become Taxing Issue with Valley Almond Growers

 It wasn’t even April 15 and almonds growers were already being taxed.

Not by Uncle Sam. Rather by pests. And the bugs are returning to the orchards sooner rather than later, reports our almond field scout Jenna Horine.

Stink bugs are showing up early.
“Some trees have lots of stink bugs falling out of them,” Jenna says. “Usually I don’t see stink bugs before April 15.”

California’s mild, dry winter can take much of the blame. Normally, the cold winter months will put a damper on pests through the early spring. Compounding the problem has been the warm weather, including some days with unseasonably high 90-degree temperatures.
Ants swarm around a NOW trap.
As Jenna visits orchards throughout the San Joaquin Valley, she is discovering an uptick in almond damaging pests, including stink bugs, mites, peach twig borer and navel orangeworm (NOW). Stink bugs, for example, usually don’t show up in orchards until May during normal years. 

Even ants, which are usually worrisome at the outset of summer, are becoming real pests this spring. Ant mounds seem to be popping up everywhere, Jenna reports says, and the pests are marching up tree trunks and making their way onto limbs. In one instance, she found ants swarming around a NOW trap.

Ant mounds are surfacing in the orchards.
It’s a good bet that no one is surprised by Jenna’s report. With the state’s drought reaching emergency status this winter, almond experts were preparing growers for a challenging year with pests and disease issues to go along with water availability.

A peach twig borer trap.
Now, it seems these predictions are starting to come true to the chagrin of growers. These developments have prompted some growers to start treatments now.

Looking ahead this season, Jenna anticipates many orchards are likely to see a replay of last year’s pest issues. Simply put, it means growers can generally expect the same kind of pest pressures this year as in 2014.

As New York Yankees baseball hall of famer Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

San Joaquin Valley Cotton Season Underway Despite Drought Worries in 2014

Drought or no drought, San Joaquin Valley growers are starting to plant the seeds for another cotton season.

Amid unseasonably warm spring weather – temperatures hit the 90s last week – more growers expect to take the plunge this week and plant their cotton fields, reports field scout Carlos Silva. A few growers, though, remain on the fence and it’s uncertain if they will go ahead with cotton in 2014 because of tight water supplies.

Growers are starting to seed their cotton fields in the Valley.
Some growers tell Carlos that they anticipate about 40 percent of the normal water supplies this year – for all crops, including cotton. Those in the giant Westlands Water District are more inclined to skip cotton this season. Westlands receives federal water and earlier this year the Bureau of Reclamation indicated there won’t be any allocation to water agencies in 2014.

Still, it’s safe to say California will be producing cotton this dry year. Of course, we all anticipate cotton acreage to be down substantially with some experts predicting plantings will be the lowest since the 1920s. A number of growers are planting smaller fields, often in the 30- to 50-acre range. 

“Growers are facing a lot of tough decisions,” Carlos says.  They are leaving fields fallow and trimming costs, which includes the hard choice of laying off year-round workers. Many pledge to hire year-round workers back as soon as possible. Who knows when, or if, that will occur because of the economic uncertainly swirling around the Valley. 

What makes it difficult for farmers to hand out pink slips, Carlos points out, is they find it tough to find good, dependable workers.

Meanwhile, growers who are going forward with cotton are counting on favorable global prices for high-quality California fiber.  We can say with certainty 2014 will a very interesting year. Remember, it’s only 180 to 200 days until harvest.

Growers are starting to harvest alfalfa for the first time.

Weevil damage in alfalfa.
In alfalfa, Carlos says growers have started the first cutting, or harvest, of the season. They’ll let it dry on the field for about five days and then turn the crop to dry the other side. With water availability a big issue, some growers are anticipating only one or two more cuttings before calling it a season.

On the pest front, weevils and aphids are pretty much under control in alfalfa. Carlos is seeing some blue alfalfa aphids but the counts found in his sweep net aren’t worrisome at this time to trigger treatment.

Field Day Alert: Don’t forget this to attend Thursday’s “Monitoring Practices, Irrigation Tips, Pest and Disease Management” Almond Field Day from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Speakers are UC IPM emeritus Walt Bentley, David Doll of UCCE Merced, Gene Brandi of the American Beekeeping Federation, Geurreet Brar of UCCE Fresno and Matthew Danielczyk, restoration project manager for Audubon California. As always, the event is free and 2 hours of continuing education and 2.5 hours of CCA CEU credits will be available. More details are at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. The event promises to be full of helpful information, especially during a drought year.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mother Nature Can Deliver Good & Bad News for Farmers

Around farm country you might call it as “Mother Nature’s Paradox”: What’s good for one grower may not be good for another.

It can crop up anytime of the year, especially during the Central Valley’s growing season: Hot temperatures may be good for cotton, but bad for lettuce. Rain may be good for alfalfa, but bad for almonds.

This past week is a good example.  Mother Nature dropped one-tenth to a half-inch of rain in various parts of the Valley – enough to turn orchards and fields muddy.

Last week's storms didn't lessen the drought fears.
Field crops welcomed the extra water during this drought year. But at the same time, the wet stuff – coupled by 60-degree temperatures – weren’t as welcomed by almond growers. Moreover, some long-range weather watchers are predicting periodic storms – a la the Midwest – into the summer months. Such talk makes nut growers a little nervous.

As a result, almond growers are looking into fungicide applications, says field scout Jenna Horine. Some may include it with their normal May sprays – something they normally wouldn’t do.
Here is an example of leaf rust. -- UC IPM photo
Unseasonable rains could trigger spring and summer diseases, including fungus, rust, scab and scale problems. (You don’t even want to think about rain during hull split this summer.)

For now, Jenna says the wet and cooler weather last week may have put a damper navel orangeworm concerns for the moment. She reports NOW eggs snared in traps were low compared to the worrisome counts found the previous week. Still, with the traps out only a couple weeks, it’s too early to determine any trends. Besides, the weather started heating up today and temperatures is predicted to top 90 degrees on Tuesday, which could change the pest picture again. Can you believe we could see a 30-degree temperature swing from April 1? Wow.

More growers are digging wells.
On the water front, Jenna offers this observation: More drilling rigs are popping up across the Valley as growers look toward wells as a short-term solution to tight water supplies. In fact, one grower who earlier this winter indicated the drilling a well wouldn’t be worth the investment for him has changed his mind.
Jenna also sees more growers implementing water-saving measures by eliminating weeds between the rows of almond trees.

Looking at the big picture, the state Department of Water Resources on April 1 took its monthly survey of the Sierra snowpack. Despite the late-season storms, the snowpack’s water content was only 32 percent of normal for this time of year. This month typically signals the start of the snow melt.

State surveyors measure snowpack.
“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said State Water Director Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

Yes, tight water supplies are no April Fool’s Day joke.

Almond Field Day: Growers concerned about the drought and wacky weather should attend this important event: “Monitoring Practices, Irrigation Tips, Pest and Disease Management” on Thursday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Speakers are: UC IPM Emeritus Walt Bentley, David Doll of UCCE Merced, Gene Brandi of the American Beekeeping Federation, Geurreet Brar of UCCE Fresno and Matthew Danielczyk, restoration project manager for Audubon California. As always, the event is free and 2 hours of continuing education and 2.5 hours of CCA CEU credits will be available. More details are at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. The event promises to be full of helpful information, especially during a drought year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Wishing the Valley’s May Crops Will Benefit from April Showers

Will there be April showers for May crops?

After the rain over the weekend, the weather forecasters are predicting the start of April tomorrow could be another wet one – albeit far from a gully washer.

Still, farmers around here will take any rain they can get during this drought. It helps the season’s first alfalfa crop. It helps keep dust down around almond orchards – remember dusty roads can lead to future mite woes.

In the greater scheme of things though, Mother Nature isn’t likely going to bring an end to another dry year. March is traditionally the last big month for rain to come down, according to state water officials. The snowpack is a mere 15 percent of normal in the Northern California mountains and 32 percent in Central California ranges.

Some growers are still uncertain about planting cotton.
Indeed, field scout Carlos Silva reminds us that the first week of April last year saw the first cotton seeds planted in the Valley. Usually, pre-irrigation is occurring as growers prepare the fields for the coming year’s crop. Right now, you can hear crickets rather than tractors.
A number of growers are on the fence right now – still deciding whether to go ahead and plant cotton this year, Carlos notes. During a recent water meeting sponsored by the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, experts predicted cotton acreage could be the lowest since the 1920s. Their forecast put pima cotton at 130,000 acres and upland/acala at 58,000 acres.

There was a lot of pessimism in the air during the meeting, Carlos says. One farmer, for example, indicated he won’t be farming 9,000 acres this season. In the Valley, cotton farming crosses generations of families. Over the years, some continued to plant some cotton just to keep with tradition. The drought could break many traditions this year.

Meanwhile in alfalfa, Carlos says weevils continue to be a concern in some fields. He’s keeping an eye on them. Right now, the pests aren’t at the UC IPM threshold for treatment. Carlos is finding some aphids, but the populations are still in check. A good sign is parasitic wasps – natural predators – are in the fields to keep the aphid populations under control.

NOW eggs are found in trap in almond orchard.
In almonds, field scout Jenna Horine reports some worrisome navel orangeworm (NOW) activity in a few orchards on the Valley’s Westside. She is finding NOW eggs in the traps. Poor orchard sanitation – those orchards with mummy nuts left in the tree – is the culprit in many cases. Watch for NOW problems later this season. In one instance, though, Jenna found NOW eggs in traps in an orchard in which the grower followed good mummy nut removal practices over the winter. His neighbor, though, didn’t clear the mummies in his orchard. Too bad there isn’t a NOW border patrol.

Field Day Alert: Monitoring Practices, Irrigation Tips, Pest and Disease Management headlines an Almond Field Day on Thursday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Speakers are David Doll of UCCE Merced, Gene Brandi of the American Beekeeping Federation, Geurreet Brar of UCCE Fresno and Matthew Danielczyk, restoration project manager for Audubon California. As always, the event is free and 2 hours of continuing education and 2.5 hours of CCA CEU credits will be available. More details are at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. The event promises to be full of helpful information, especially during a drought year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Leftover Mummies Will Come Back to Haunt Lax Almond Growers in the Valley

“You can pay me now, or pay me later.”

Some might recall that as the Frame oil filter’s old marketing slogan, advising you to do regular maintenance now or risk running into costly repairs down the road.

That was the refrain by field scout Jenna Horine last week after placing pest traps around almond orchards in the western San Joaquin Valley. 

A number of mummy nuts are left on a single branch.
The reason: In one orchard, she found a tree with 10 mummy nuts – on a single branch! There were sure to be more hidden in other parts of the green leaves. In another orchard, she found about six mummy nuts per branch in four different trees – in a single row!

Jenna envisions these orchards facing some pesky problems with navel orangeworm later this season because of lax orchard sanitation over the winter. These growers face the prospects of shelling out lots of money to treat for NOW to protect their crop. Jenna points out her find of an inch-long navel orangeworm in an orchard.

“It’s way cheaper to follow preventative practices,” Jenna says. Indeed, our long-time friend, retired UC IPM entomologist Walt Bentley has tirelessly and repeatedly stressed to almond growers over the years the value of knocking off mummy nuts from the trees during the slow winter months.

The lesson here: It’s better to invest a little early to save a lot later.

Jenna reports almonds are quite large for this time of year.
Meanwhile, Jenna is finishing up placing pest traps in orchards, strategically setting up three traps? to snag NOW and a trio to trap peach twig borer in every orchard she will be scouting during the year. She usually places trap in the same area as in the past or known pest hot spots. This allows her to compare current findings with past results.

Jenna has been splitting some of the nuts to check on the development of the meat. So far, things are looking good. The only unusual thing is the size of the hulls, which are larger than normal for this time of the year. You often won’t see them this big until June.

In the fields, field scout Carlos Silva has been scouting alfalfa. Aphid populations are relatively low again this past week.

However, Carlos is concerned about weevils.  In some fields, he has snagged 14-15 weevils per sweep in his net. UC IPM recommends growers consider an early harvest or treatment at 20 lavae per sweep. Carlos anticipates seeing the first harvest starting this week. 

With water supplies tight due to the drought, some growers are looking at doing just two harvests before calling it a season and diverting water to other crops such as almonds.
Alfalfa weevil larvae found in a sweep net.
Typical damage weevils can cause in the field.
On the water front, area rallies are continuing with local political leaders and water district officials raising awareness about the importance of water to the farm economy. Events at the Firebaugh rodeo grounds and in Fresno drew big crowds.

For well drilling and irrigation pipe companies, the drought has created a financial boom. Some companies report three- to six-week backlogs for filling orders for well pumps.

Carlos also notes many growers are looking at drilling wells. But that route is costly and usually out of the price range for small farmers. Drilling a new well easily tops $100,000. Even if you can afford the price tag, it can still take up to six months to hire a drilling company. Companies are that busy.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Almond, Alfalfa Field Scouting Springs in Action for 2014

Spring arrives Thursday with warm temperatures and blue skies.

We’re gearing up for another, albeit unusual, growing season in the San Joaquin Valley.
Alfalfa growers trying to get as many harvests as possible.

Field scouts Jenna Horine and Carlos Silva are ready. This week, Jenna starts setting and monitoring traps in almond orchards, providing growers a second set of eyes for pests prowling around the trees. Carlos is starting to check for pests in the enrolled alfalfa fields.

While water remains topic No. 1 in farm country, growers are pressing ahead as best as they can during the drought. 

The first cutting is expected to occur at the end of the month.
Alfalfa growers, for example, are continuing to irrigate their fields as long as they have water available. The goal, Carlos says, is to get as many harvests, or cuttings, before their water supplies run dry. Studies indicate growers can achieve as much as 10 harvests a year. Tight water supplies certainly will undercut the harvest this season.

California’s dairy and cattle ranchers rely on the state’s high quality alfalfa. Alfalfa growers will be doing their best to keep supplying hay for those important industries.

Almond trees are showing their green leaves.
One bit of good news for alfalfa: The early winter aphid problem appears to have moderated, Carlos reports. As you may recall, there was an early emergence of blue alfalfa and cow pea aphids on the plant stems in the region, threatening the crop and forcing growers to think about early treatments. Right now, he’s finding low aphid populations in the enrolled fields. 

Carlos says alfalfa is 13 to 14 inches tall in some fields. If the 80-degree temperatures hold up, these fields should be ready to harvest by the end of this month. Usually, growers will harvest their crop at 24 to 25 inches.

In the almonds orchards, the colorful blossoms are giving way to young, green leaves. Jenna will be visiting orchards and we’ll start letting everyone what she finds in her scouting reports.

The nuts already are a good size for this time of year.
On the westside of the Valley, some trees are already loaded with young fruit. Jenna says the emerging nuts already are sizable for this time of year.
Could that be a sign that the 2014 season may turn out OK despite the drought? We’ll see.