Monday, October 16, 2017

Where in the World Do You Find Colored Cotton? Firebaugh of Course

Leisure time during harvest time is a rare commodity for farmers.

This time of year, they’re often out of the house before sunrise and backin the house after sundown. Needless to say playing golf, knitting, wood working or traveling takes a hiatus during the harvest season.

But a pair of Firebaugh growers has found time over the years to mix a little business and pleasure by growing a mini-field of colored cotton. Meet Frank Williams and Mark Fickett, owners of Windfall Farms in Firebaugh.

Windfall Farms brown colored cotton.
For years, they have tried innovative and environmentally friendly farm practices, including planting perennial hedgerows and inter-planting cotton and alfalfa for pest management.

It’s a labor of love for the two growers. This hobby requires a commitment to have the fiber picked by hand and ginned separately from conventional white cotton. Gins and harvesters can’t have a trace of colored fiber left on their equipment which could mix with conventional white cotton – whether it’s a John Deere harvester or a heating unit at the gin.

In past years, the colored cotton was sold to a small Biddeford, Mainespecialty yarn company called Quince &Co, which produces cotton, wool and other natural yarns.The Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) helped Frank and Mark make the connection the company,

Frank and Mark are long-time participating SCP growers and supporters of the organization’s efforts to reduce the use of the most toxic chemicals used in cotton production. Quince &Co. has developed a blend of SCP’s Cleaner Cotton™ and brown and green colored cotton available on their website at

Colored cotton not quite as rare as Hope Diamond.
On its blog, Quince & Co has been writing about the various hurdles it has faced to develop a responsible, U.S.-sourced cotton yarn. “Today, the solution: Cleaner Cotton™, and the amazing people who bent over backwards to work our small order into their processes and help make our new yarn, Willet, a reality. We couldn't be more excited!”

Naturally colored cotton is bred to yield fiber colors other than white commercial cotton. The natural color precludes the need for dyes and the fiber can feel softer than the usual white cotton. Colored cotton, which traces its origin in the Americas to the South American Andes some 5,000 years ago, is still rare because of the special processing requirements (colored cotton is shorter and weaker fiber, which makes it difficult to be spun in heavy machinery). 

To help people learn about colored cotton, Frank and Mark welcome a group of visitors, including those from major fashion brands, to visit their small plot of colored cotton. It’s a rare treat – almost like checking out the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But in this case, you can feel, touch and pick some of the fiber and bring it home.

Interested in seeing this rare fiber up close?
Cotton Tour participant picks colored cotton.

Just sign up for SCP’s annual Cotton Tour, which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 24. The event provides a unique opportunity to get an inside look at cotton production – from the field to the gin. The event runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and costs $40 per person (the fee covers bus transportation and lunch at the Cardella Winery in Mendota). For more information or to register go to the following link:

Be sure to say hey if you join the tour.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Six Months Later – It’s Finally Time to Pick Cotton

Sometimes it seems the time would never arrive for the cotton harvest. But cotton picking is in full swing.
 You can see harvesters criss-crossing fields, picking puffy white fiber from the cotton plants. You see cotton modules parked along the field margins and ready to be hauled to nearby gins.

Cotton harvesters are working around the clock.
CreThroughout the month, crews will be working around the clock, seven days a week to beat the chance of inclement weather playing havoc with growers.

You have to go back to April when growers planted the seeds for this year’s crop. Then it takes about 180 to 200 days to reach full maturity and become ready for harvest in October. Of course, the timing of the harvest varies from locale to locale. A few growers got an early jump and started harvesting in late September, says field scout Damien Jelen. But October is the big month.

It has been a fairly normal season for cotton. While water is always a constant worry, supplies seem to be plentiful for irrigation. That is a welcome relief after five years of drought.

 Growers responded to the wet year by boosting cotton acreage this season.

Growers planted more cotton this season compared to 2016.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast a nice bump up in California cotton production this year. The upland/acala cotton harvest is estimated at 90,000 acres, up 45.2 percent from 62,000 in 2016.

For high-quality pima cotton, the USDA predicts 208,000 acres will be harvested in 2017, a 32.5 percent increase from 154,000 acres last year. California continues to dominate the Pima market, planting 85 percent of the variety in the United States.
Speaking of harvest, the Sustainable Cotton Project’s Annual Cotton Tour is coming up. The event provides a unique opportunity to get an inside look at cotton production – from the field to the gin. Set for Tuesday, October 24, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the cost is $40 a person, which covers bus transportation and lunch at the Cardella Winery in Mendota. For more information or to register go to the following link:

Monday, October 2, 2017

Now is the Time to Moo-ve Forward with Planting a New Alfalfa Field in the Valley

 Most growers have wrapped up the spring-to-summer alfalfa season by now.

But a few farmers are sticking it out and pushing for one more cutting this month, reports field scout Damien Jelen. These growers are determined to squeeze as much as they can from the crop to maximize their investment in time, water and chemicals.

New alfalfa fields should be planted in early fall.
It’s no surprise economics is a big driver.

Alfalfa, which can be cut for hay up to 11 times a year, ranks as the 10th most valuable crop in California and generates more than $280 million in annual income for growers.  It supports the state’s largest ag industry, the $6 billion dairy market.

Good quality alfalfa brings in a premium. You might say good hay makes cows happy. That’s why about 1 million acres of alfalfa is grown statewide, yielding more than seven tons a year or 9 percent of the nation’s alfalfa hay production.

Alfalfa supports the state's giant dairy industry.
At the same time, alfalfa is a good rotational crop because it adds nitrogen into the soil. As a perennial crop, it grows for several years after planting.

Of course, there comes a time for growers to plant a new stand.

Dan Putman, an alfalfa extension specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Davis, says early October is the best time for San Joaquin Valley growers to plant a new field. It takes 15 to 25 pounds of seed planted per acre.

Alfalfa plant roots go deep underneath the ground.
Putman says timing is everything. Planting in November runs the risk of encountering cold, wet weather. That’s not good for growth.

“It’s a slow growing seedling,” he says. It’s important for new alfalfa plants to establishdeep roots – usually five to six feet deep.

A deep root system allows alfalfa to withstand pest, weed and drought pressures. It also keeps the young alfalfa from being overwhelmed by winter weeds.

Planting a field even a couple of weeks too late can reduce yields by 1 to 1 ½ tons. Here’s what a1977-1978 field study in Yolo County and the Sacramento Valley found:

·         September 14 plantings yielded 17.2 tons per acre during the first two years
·         October 17 plantings yielded 16 tons per acre during the first two years
·         November 16 plantings yielded 14.5 tons per acre during the first two years

Putman advises growers to work with their pest control advisors to determine the best varieties to resist pest and plant disease pressures in their area. He also notes the deep root system helps alfalfa survive during dry years.

“It is a resilient crop,” he says. Even after growers stopped irrigating alfalfa during the drought, the crop was able to “come back another day to yield well.”

The Annual Cotton Tour remains popular as ever. The event provides a unique opportunity to get an inside look at cotton production – from the field to the gin. Set for Tuesday, October 24, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the cost is $40 a person, which covers bus transportation and lunch at the Cardella Winery in Mendota. For more information or to register go to the following link:


Monday, September 25, 2017

Some Growers Could Fetch Lower Returns for their Almonds This Season

There’s been a lot of chatter circulating on social media, in coffee shops and other gathering spots frequented by almond growers.
Some growers are surprised by crop reports on pest damage.

The talk around town centers on early reports from almond hullers that their crop experienced more pest damage than anticipated.

“They’re getting higher pest damage numbers than they thought. Growers don’t know what’s going on. It’s very puzzling to them,” field scout Jenna Mayfield reports. “It affects the price they get,” Jenna says.

Simply put: Greater pest damage means a lesser quality crop. That means growers will earn less money than expected.

Apparently, pest monitoring didn’t catch the actual number of pests prowling the orchard. They reason is unclear, Jenna says.
A pheromone mating disruption canister placed in a tree.

Of course, there’s plenty of speculation. Some cite the use of pheromone mating disruption devices – called puffers –designed to control male pests, especially the dreaded navel orangeworm (NOW).

Perhaps puffers from neighboring areas skewed the results in the grower’s pest traps. You might call it the almond version of a false positive report (meaning while pest control advisers and growers found fewer NOW eggs in the traps there were really a lot more crop damaging pests out in the orchard).

These puffers have been around for some two decades to control pests in tree crops across California. They are considered labor-saving technology.

The puffers are hung on tree branches and placed around the orchard. The canisters often will spray pheromone doses on a 12- or 24-hour schedule.

Navel orangeworm damage in almonds          (UC IPM photo)
Some studies indicate the puffers alone won’t significantly reduce NOW damage in almonds. They are most effective when combined with soft pesticide treatments. University of California researchers estimate mating disruption systems are used on more than 200,000 acres of almonds and pistachios across the state.

“MD (mating disruption) can work, but needs careful monitoring and large-scale cooperation between neighbors to work well across an entire area,” according to a 2012 article by Franz Niederholzer, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Colusa, Yuba and Sutter counties.

“Upwind portions of an MD block can have high NOW damage at harvest if neighboring blocks have high pressure. MD is not a stand-alone practice under high pressure.”

This is where the good neighbor policy comes in handy.