Monday, December 11, 2017

For Bugs There’s No Place Like Hedgerows in the Valley

Everyone needs a home – even bugs.

And if you create a permanent residence, bugs will come by the hundreds and thousands. So will mammals and birds.

Well, the owners of Windfall Farms of Firebaugh this year planted a new home for bugs in the Valley. It piggybacks on one planted years ago west of Interstate 5 – touted as the southernmost perennial hedgerow in the Central Valley.

Grower Mark Fickett  describes the perennial hedgerow.
 “The idea is to have a natural insectuary ,” said Mark Fickett of Windfall Farms. “There are a lot of beneficial insects around the hedgerow. It can reduce the amount of chemicals we use on a given crop.”

Mark and long-time business partner Frank Williams have been big fans of perennial hedgerows. Their first was a half-mile long stand of trees, shrubs and perennial grasses surrounded by farm fields and orchards. The hedgerow even boasted redwoods and sequoias.

Farm tour visitors inspect a fledgling hedgerow.
Now, they have planted a new one east of Interstate 5 – a quarter-mile long row of fledgling vegetation, including California buckwheat, oak, deer grass, sugarbush, coyote brush, rosemary, toyon, lavender, incense cedar, live oak and royal purple sage. Drip lines keep the plants irrigated.

Hedgerows are good things. Their benefits include air and water quality protection, weed control, protection against soil erosion, increased biodiversity and beneficial insect activity. They also provide shelter for mammals, insects and birds as well as nectar for bugs and birds..

 “There is certainly lot more that we can do,” Frank says. The farm plans do more planting to extend the hedgerow another quarter mile.

“This is beautiful,” Dr. Pete Goodell, UC IPM emeritus, said after visiting the new hedgerow. “This one of the largest ones of mixed habitat that I have seen in the state.”

Pete studied the first hedgerow extensively, monitoring insects on a monthly basis for a year.
Shrubs, trees and perennial grasses populate the hedgerow.
For Pete, hedgerows diversify the local ecosystem and provide what he calls eco-services to the area. What he means is the hedgerow can be different things at different times of the year to insects, mammals and birds. 

“It’s really interesting to see the shift in insects,” Pete said. “There is something blooming here year round. There is always a pollinator that comes through.”

Hedgerows are more common on farms in the Sacramento Valley, Central Coast and Bay Area and rare in the Central Valley. Experts say more research is needed to prove the absolute benefits of hedgerows. 

“I am sure there is some benefit,” Frank says. 

University of California study in 2011 reported hedgerows attracted more beneficial insects than pests and suggested growers replace weedy areas at the crop field edges with planted hedgerows. The idea is to enhance natural pest management and reduce the need for pesticides.
Another benefit: Hedgerows are aesthetically pleasing.

“This will continue to be a nice place to be,” Pete says of the new hedgerow. As the vegetation matures over time, he says, it will be common for a “truck or two to stop and enjoy it.”

Sunday, December 3, 2017

SJ Valley Almond Growers Checking To-Do List Twice

The holidays are fast approaching and everyone knows ol’ St. Nick is making his list and checking it twice.

So too are Valley almond growers. They’re also are making their list and checking it twice to ensure all the late fall and early winter chores on the to-do list are completed as almonds head into the dormant season.

“This is a good time to get your work done in the orchards before the winter rains arrive and the ground gets too muddy,” says field scout Jenna Mayfield. “Growers also should follow best management practices to prepare their orchards for next season.”

Jenna offers her own list of 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.

Now is the time to repair drip systems.
·        *  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 preemergent 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 UC IPM:

·         * Take a dormant spur sample for scale and mite eggs from now until mid-January. Make sure to record the findings. 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. Treatment would come in the spring.
Growers have a long to-do list for winter chores.
·      *    Watch for gophers and mound-building activity.
By following these practices, Jenna says, growers will enhance their pest control activities while avoiding environmental problems related to pesticide use. It’s time to get to work because there’s only 17 working days before winter.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Cotton Growers Plow Ahead After the Fall Harvest

This time of year, farmers certainly give thanks for buttoning up another harvest.

But any farmer will tell you there’s little time to rest after harvest. Cotton growers will vouch for that, citing state law requiring them to plowdown their fields soon after the cotton is picked.

Field scout Damien Jelen says growers understand the requirement and move quickly to plow under their fields well before the December deadline set by local county agricultural commissioners.

“They know the law and have been doing it (plowdown) for years,” Damien says, pointing out almost all the cotton fields in the Northern San Joaquin Valley have been plowed under. Only a couple of growers are still lagging.

Here's a picture of pink bollworm larvae. (UC IPM photo)
It was 1967 when farm groups, UC farm advisers and researchers, state, local and federal ag regulators launched a pink bollworm eradication program in the San Joaquin Valley. The pink bollworm damages squares and bolls. An overwintering population can affect next season’s crop. Plowdown also prevents plant regrowth and reduces the build up of white flies.

Work starts after the cotton is harvested. Crews will return to the field and uproot and shred the brown, dried cotton stalks. Then they disc the field, plow down the debris about six inches deep, break up big clods of dirt and then build new planting beds for next season.

“We didn’t have too much rain this fall to force growers to pull the tractors from the fields.” Damien said. As a result, growers were able to finish plowing down their fields rather quickly.

Growers are good about plowing under the harvested fields.
Each fall, county agricultural commissioners will issue a deadline for all the cotton fields to be plowed down. County ag officials are required by state law to enforce plowdown rules and a host-free period through the early spring (Growers can’t start planting until the host-free period ends).

“The Pink Bollworm (PBW) Program is one of the most successful and longest running, yet least-known area-wide integrated pest control program in the world,” the California Department of Food and Agriculture says. “This unique integrated pest control program has been in continual operation since 1967. The cooperative program is funded almost entirely by the cotton growers of California through an assessment on each bale of cotton ginned in the state. The PBW Program uses an integrated pest management approach, relying on extensive trapping, sterile release, crop destruction, and pheromone treatments …to keep infestations below economic impact levels.”
State ag officials point out the pink bollworm is the third pest ever in the history of entomology to be fully eradicated. California cotton growers should take a bow.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Almond Crackout More Than a Shell Game for Growers

We’re all familiar with the shell game.

You shuffle the shells and guess where the hidden pea is.
Well, field scout Jenna Mayfield offers her own version of the shell game. Call it the almond shelling game – an annual event that takes place every fall after the almond harvest.

Harvest samples are taken after nuts are shaken to the ground.
Among industry and academic research circles, Jenna’s version is better known as crackout. The University of California Integrated Pest Management program calls the practice a cost-effective way to manage pests for the coming season.
Before we get into more detail about pest management, let’s start at the beginning in which growerscollect samples from various locations in the orchard during the harvest.

Jenna picks up samples for about two dozen growers. She collects nuts shaken from trees in three separate areas in an orchard where pest traps were placed. Jenna gathers about 200 nuts from each variety planted in the orchard. Growers will plant different almond varieties in every orchard. If there are three varieties in the orchard, then Jenna will pick up a total of 600 nuts in all.

Cracking the nuts and inspecting each one helps confirm what she discovered in the orchards during scouting this season, Jenna says. 

Jenna inspects each kernel, writes down her findings from every orchard and provides a report to every grower. The findings indicate how well the grower’s pest management practices fared during the season. Growers also can compare the results to a grade sheet received from the huller.
The practice gets positive reviews from UC extension advisors.

Almond pest damage could be hidden by sweeping.
Merced County’s UC Cooperative extension advisor and pomologist David Doll wrote in a 2010 Almond Doctor column: Crackout should be done because damage is hidden by the handling that occurs during sweeping, pickup, and processing. In some cases, we have found 4 percent more

damage in harvest samples than what was indicated in the grower’s processor report.  In other words, when we found an estimated 5 percent damage/reject level in the harvest sample, the processor indicated a 1 percent rejection level. The 4 percent discrepency is most likely due to damaged nuts lost during the steps of harvest.”

He goes on to say that a harvest sample accounts for damage that does occur in the field. “Often times processors lump all worm damage together, not separating out NOW (navel orangeworm), PTB (peach twig borers) or other worms. Ant damage often does not show up because the chewed out pellicles are blown out the back of the pick-up machine. Gummy nuts due to deficiencies, feeding, or other conditions are all lumped together.”

Jenna adds that 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.