Monday, October 13, 2014

Oh Nuts – Time to Get Cracking on Almond Samples

Crack…Crack… Crack… 

There’s no need to adjust your volume.

That’s the rhythmic sound you hear emanating from the home of almond field scout Jenna Horine.

That’s the staccato rhythm of almond after almond after almond being cracked by Jenna. It’s a laborious, yet important job she does every fall.
Jenna is busy cracking thousands of nut samples.

“Cracking the nuts and inspecting each one helps confirm what I saw in the orchards during scouting this season,” Jenna says. 

For Jenna, this is crack-out season – a time when you crack the nut, shell the kernel and look for signs of pest damage that occurred in every orchard that she scouted during the spring and summer.

So far, Jenna’s gone through about a quarter of the more than 5,000 almonds she collected from more than two dozen orchards throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

Hullers will provide a grade on the quality of a grower's crop.
During the harvest, you could find Jenna wading around carpets of nuts just shaken off trees, collecting samples in a brown paper lunch bag. Jenna picked up nuts from three different areas of an orchard where she had placed pest traps. In each orchard, she collected 200 of each variety of almonds. For example, if a grower had nonpareil, Buttes and Carmel varieties in an orchard, Jenna would gather a total of 600 nuts.
Nut sampling is extremely helpful practice advocated by UC almond experts. Unlike the familiar stock market caveat – you know the “past performance does not predict future returns” warning – nut sampling is a good way to identity past pest damage and predict potential future damage. Moreover, experts say crackout prevents growers from making the wrong assumptions about pests.

Jenna records her findings from each orchard and sends the information to each grower. The results are a kind of progress report about the grower’s integrated pest management program. Her findings also provide information to compare with the grade sheet received from the huller.

An example of Navel orangeworm damage . ( UC IPM photo)

To date, Jenna reports no significant problems from peach twig borer (PTB). She has found some evidence of ant damage. She isn’t surprised about the samples with naval orangeworm damage. The damaged nuts are usually found in orchards that plagued by NOW problems during the year.

Samples from farmers who followed best management practices are relatively free from NOW damage. Kudos to these growers. Keep up the good work.

Crack …crack…crack… We’ll keep you updated about Jenna gets cracking on more almond samples in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 6, 2014

From Seed to Fiber - It's Been a Long Journey for Cotton

 It has been six months since growers planted the seeds for the 2014 cotton crop in the San Joaquin Valley.

With fall now here, we can officially say the harvest season is upon us. A few growers already have started running their harvesters, earning the recognition as one of the first farms to harvest cotton in the region.
Of course, every farm is at a difference stage. Field scout Carlos Silva points out that some growers have finished defoliating their fields and are now waiting for the plants to dry out. Others are still waiting to start the process.
Cotton defoliation is well under way in the Valley.

For growers this is the most exciting and hectic time of the year. They can finally see the fruits of their labor. However, they won’t relax until their cotton is off to the gin. Then they can look back and say they survived a trying year marked by tight water supplies and a big drop in acreage – both due to the drought. No one ever said farming is easy.

The alfalfa season lasted longer than anticipated in 2014.
Meanwhile, alfalfa growers have finished harvesting their crop. Carlos hasn’t seen any fields being irrigated so far. That could be a sign we’ve seen the last of alfalfa for the season – which isn’t surprising for this time of year. 

Of course, having a fairly normal alfalfa growing season is quite an achievement in 2014. Many thought they would run out of water at the start of summer and call it quits in June. Every cutting after that proved to be a bonus this year.

Here’s a final alert for growers about Tuesday’s Almond Field Day. Get some valuable post harvest management tips from UCCE Merced’s David Doll and UCCE Fresno’s Gurrett Brar from 10 a.m. to noon in Los Banos.  The event will be conducted at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road. Continuing education and CCA credits will be available. For more information, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

Monday, September 29, 2014

Even After the Almond Harvest, Water Remains No. 1 on the Minds of Valley Growers

Trees are uprooted because of the drought.
The season began with water on their minds. The season ends with water on their minds.
That’s the assessment for the 2014 almond seasons as growers wrap up the harvest. We’ll have to wait for reports from processors to see what kind of quality of this season’s crop.

For certain, one of the most severe droughts on record was the No.1 topic – greatly influencing how almond growers farmed. Some uprooted trees. Some dug wells. Some diverted water from other crops. Some cut back on irrigation. 

Dust cover trees by dirt road.
Mites lead to sticky nuts.
“The trees were a lot more stressed this year,” says field scout Jenna Horine.  “Some farmers said they had more nuts drop this year (before harvest).”

Jenna observed an uptick in pests this year. While there are no simple reasons for the increase, it is a good guess the drought and tight water supplies were contributors. 

Jenna points to dustier roads along the orchard margins. Some growers opted to water down dirt roads less than in the past when water was more plentiful and less expensive. Trucks kicking up dust would send mites into the orchards.

For the most part, the large almond operations are finished with their harvest. A few of the smaller operators are just starting to shake their nuts off the trees. These small farms can’t afford to own their own harvesters and must hire operators to come in with their equipment. They usually end up down on the waiting list.
Shaking almonds off the trees.
The almond harvest is a multi-step process. First, a shaker comes in and shakes the nuts off the trees. The nuts are left to dry for seven to 10 days. A sweeper comes in to sweep the nuts into a centerline pile and then a pick-up machine rounds them up to be hauled off the processor.

Almonds between tree rows are scooped up.
With fall now here, the focus for growers turns to post-harvest chores. Once again, water comes into play. Jenna points out growers are evaluating their water budget. Should they use up their supplies and pray for rain or hold back some for later use?

The University of California has a nice summary of research about irrigation management for almond trees under drought conditions. Post harvest irrigation strategy depends on earlier water management decisions and the stress that was put on the trees.

Growers should attend next week’s Almond Field Day in Los Banos to learn valuable post harvest management tips from UCCE Merced’s David Doll and UCCE Fresno’s Gurrett Brar. Sponsored by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, the event will be Tuesday, October 7 from 10 a.m. to noon at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road. Continuing education and CCA credits will be available. For more information, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Successful Defoliation Strategy Brings in More Green

The green flag is out for the start of cotton plant defoliation in the Valley.
Keep out: Defoliated field.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports seeing some fields already defoliated and anticipates more growers to follow suit over the next week or two. Experts consider defoliation as the last big management effort that will impact the cotton crops financial bottom line this season.

Defoliants are used to boost leaf drop and drying of the plant, which increases the timeliness and efficiency of the harvest. Growers that terminate their crop early are often trying to head off potential sticky cotton damage caused by burgeoning white fly or aphid populations.
Successful defoliation can improve cotton grades by lessening staining and trash, make harvesting faster, speed up drying, delay boll rot and even boost boll opening.

Conditions are right to start defoliating cotton fields.
Here’s what UC IPM considers the best conditions for defoliation:
  • Moderate to high air temperatures (daytime greater than or equal to 80 degrees, nighttime greater than 60 degrees)
  • Relatively low plant and soil nitrogen levels
  • Moderate soil water levels (plants not water stressed)
  • Relatively uniform crop development; plants at vegetative cutout with limited or no regrowth
  • Weeds, insects, and diseases under control
  • Ability to get good chemical coverage and penetration of the chemicals into the plant canopy
Pest control advisors and UC extension specialists can offer recommendations about defoliant products and application rates.

Meanwhile Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM says PCAs are telling him that white flies weren’t a problem this season. No one can cite a specific reason.

Carlos agrees. “Last year, we had a lot of white flies. We haven’t seen very many white flies or aphids (this year). They are pretty much under control.”

Plants are  already drying only 12 hours after defoliation.
Even so, Pete repeats his mantra that growers shouldn’t relax and continue to watch for these crop-threatening pests until the fiber is picked and headed to the gin.

To illustrate his point, he offered this anecdote to the online publication Ag/Fax this: “We still need to follow this insect all the way through. You absolutely can't walk away from that field until there's nothing left but the stalks. We've had plenty of reminders this month about the attack on September 11, 2001, and that stands out as a year when we had a lot of sticky cotton. Remember: after the attack the government grounded aerial applicators for about 2 weeks. PCAs had written recs for defoliation, but nobody could make applications. That left fields out there on their own for 14 days with very little monitoring, and white fly took advantage of the situation.”
Field Day Alert: Almond growers will receive valuable post harvest management tips from UCCE Merced’s David Doll and UCCE Fresno’s Gurrett Brar on Tuesday, October 7 in Los Banos. Sponsored by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, the event will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road. Continuing education and CCA credits will be available. For more information, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

Monday, September 15, 2014

It Is Best to Leave the Sticky Cotton at the County Fair

It was a year ago when California cotton growers faced the worst white fly infestation in a decade. That sent chills through the industry.
Sticky cotton is a major industry concern.

The fear: sticky cotton, which is caused from honeydew secreted by white flies and cotton aphids. At stake was the global reputation for California’s high quality cotton, Fortunately, growers took action to avert a potential sticky cotton disaster.

How serious is this issue?

A 2007 USDA report called sticky cotton a worldwide program that is “increasing as cotton processing machinery is refined because high-speed, large-volume processing of lint requires cleaner cotton. Much of the cotton produced in the Western United States is exported, and loss of export markets is a serious threat to the U.S. economy.”

In California, growers spent $220 million to combat sticky cotton from 1992 to 2001. Studies indicate sticky cotton can result in a price reduction of 3 to 5 cents a pound.

Aphids damage on a cotton plant.
That’s why field scout Carlos Silva and Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM continue to remind growers to keep alert for white flies and aphids. These pests “will jump on you when you least expect it” Pete says.

Let’s remember this: The only good sticky cotton is the kind you get at the county fair.

Honeydew residue caused by aphids
Right now, Carlos reports an uptick in aphids in some fields. The hot weather could help these pests reproduce faster. Already some areas have worrisome hot spots that could require treatment soon. 

Those who need to treat for these pests should remember to ask their PCA about using softer materials that won’t impact beneficial insects. You want to preserve biological controls and let natural predators gobble up the aphids.

Cotton bolls are opening up nicely.

Meanwhile, the string of triple-digit temperatures is expected to continue through early this week. That should speed up boll opening. We could see some growers starting to defoliate their fields over the next week.

 Cotton Tour Alert: The ever-popular Cotton Farm Tour through the San Joaquin Valley will Thursday, October 30. Again the price is right: Free. Space is limited for this behind-the-scenes look at the many sides of cotton production. This year, lunch will be at the Cardella Winery in Mendota.  Check the Sustainable Cotton Project website for more information.