Monday, March 20, 2017

Counting the Degrees to Find the Best Time for Planting Cotton in the Central Valley

Drive around the Valley and you’ll see future cotton fields in waiting

“All the fields are ready. The rows are ready,” says field scout Carlos Silva. “I’ve even seen some pre-irrigation.”
Some cotton growers have started to pre-irrigate their fields.

Certainly, the recent string of sunny, warm spring-like days (How did everyone like the near-90 degree weather last week?) certainly put growers in the mood for planting the seeds for another cotton season. 

On paper, March 10 was the first official day that San Joaquin Valley growers could plant cotton. That date marks the end of the 90-day host-free period for the pink bollworm control program. Of course, that date usually isn’t a realistic start time. 

Carlos believes the first planting could come at the end of March or early April. Right now, growers are checking the weather forecasts, measuring the temperatures and working on calculations. 

Growers have prepared fields for this year's cotton season.
Of course, Mother Nature will have a big say. While today marks the first day of spring, the weather forecast this week is more winter like. Predictions call for a few days of rain and cooler 60-degree temperatures this week.

“If growers see any rain in the forecast, they are likely to hold off planting,” Carlos says.
When is the best time to plant?

Here’s what UC IPM says: “To determine the best planting date to establish a healthy stand, use a 5-day forecast of accumulated degree-days (heat units) and on-site soil temperature readings. Good stand establishment requires sufficiently warm air (measured in heat units) and suitable field soil temperatures.” Growers can use UC IPM’s Cotton Planting Forecast online site plus soil temperatures until an optimal planting date is determined.

“Cotton seed requires approximately 50 degree-days to accumulate in order to emerge when planted at an optimum planting depth. It is also important that temperatures be consistently warm and don't drop during the first 5 days after planting,” UC IPM adds.

FIELD DAY: Almond growers will learn about honey bee health and receive valuable disease, fungicide and pest management tips at a March 28 field day. The free event will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Cook Orchard, 15640 Avenue 22 1/2, Chowchilla.  David Doll, a Merced County UCCE pomologist, will review bloomtime diseases found in almonds, chemical treatments, including the proper selection of fungicides and nitrogen applications. Florent Trouillas, UCCE fruit and nut specialist at the UC Kearny Ag Center, will explain the complexities of many wood cankers found in almond trees. He also will offer tips about treating the problem, including chemical and mechanical management practices. Sponsored by San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, the field day offers one hour of continuing education credit. For more information contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or at

Monday, March 13, 2017

Looking at Rain, Bugs and Pest Management This Season

 Will the wet winter meanfarmers will be dealing with fewer pest problems this season?
The answer is yes … and no. 

“My crystal ball is a bit fuzzy,” Dr. Pete Goodell, extension adviser of University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, told a group of farmers at a recent field day.
Pete explains that in some instances the near-record rains are likely to keep crop-threatening pests at bay, especially overwintering populations. In other instances, it might not have much of an impact.
Other factors come into play such as daily temperatures, including the number of freezing nights.
Here’s Pete’s run down about the possible impact of the rain on pests in alfalfa, cotton and almonds in 2017:

Weevils. A warm January and February brought out weevils a little early this year.  In the Fresno area, for example, January recorded daytime highs averaging 2 degrees higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service. It even hit 71 degrees on January 8. 
Weevil larvae cause the most damage in alfalfa.

“They are out there,” Pete says about weevils. One grower told the field day gathering that he recorded a count of 20 weevils per sweep of a sweep net in one field.That’s about normal right now, Pete says. If this was harvest time, the grower would want to start cutting the crop to avoid damage to the plants.

According to UC IPM, weevils overwinter as adults in field trash or other hiding places and come out in late winter or early spring.  That’s when adult females start inserting eggs into alfalfa stems. It is the young larvae that feeds on the plants and causes the most damage.

Growers should start monitoring for weevils now. Pest management should be focused before the first cutting.  “Control options are insecticides and early harvest. Biological control is not effective at preventing economic damage in most areas because populations of natural enemies are not sufficient to provide control in the spring.” UC IPM says.

Armyworm: The rains will spur growth for host plants. That means growers are likely to see larger worm populations this season.

Lygus bugs expect to be a problem for cotton this season.
Suppliers are reporting an increase in seed orders. That bodes well for the California cotton market. Look for more planted acreage due to anticipated increases in water availability this season.

Lygus – The flip side of the wet winter are weeds such as London rocket should thrive this spring, providing a nice home for lygus. Pete says an extra generation of lygus is likely to emerge in early summer as weeds dry out and the pest looks for a new home such as cotton.“We’re probably going to see some widespread outbreaks of lygus. I have no doubt about it. “Growers should check weeds for the presence of lygus through the end of this month.  This could be a really bad year for them.”

Mites and aphids: Pete says the winter impact on these pests is uncertain. Whitefly tends to increase during a drought. “Ithas to get really cold to freeze some of the overwintering insects out.”

Leaf-footed plant bugs can pose a problem in almonds.
 Leaf-footed plant bug – The forecast is unclear. The soggy soil won’t impact this pest because it doesn’t overwinter in the ground. You need really freezing temperatures below 28 degrees to have an effect on the population. “They’re still out there,” Pete says.

Navel orangeworm (NOW) and peach twig borer – the rain has been a positive to reduce the overwintering population. The same goes for mites. “It’s not a nice environment for them,” Pete says. 

We’ll have to wait and see how these predictions play out. Meanwhile, Pete stresses that it is  important for growers to remain vigilant and keep monitoring their fields or orchards for pests.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Blossoming Almond Trees Make for iPhone Moment

They used to call it a Kodak moment during the age of film-loaded cameras.

In today’s digital age, you might call it the iPhone or Android moment – when the picture perfect photo opportunity arises.

Almond trees are ablaze with blossoms across the Valley.
Once again the perfect photo op has arrived in the Valley.

 Drive along Interstate 5 through region, especially around the Los Banos area, and look east to gather in breathtaking views of acres and acres of almond trees in full bloom. It resembles a white canopy of snow glistening on the tree tops.

“It’s so beautiful. Everything is blossoming,” says almond field scout Jenna Mayfield.  She couldn’t resist the moment and snapped lots of breathtaking photos of blossoming almond orchards.

Here’s another incredible sight, reports Jenna. It’s the Eastside Bypass, which is full of water flowing down the mountains from this year’s major storms. “I haven’t seen the bypass so full in close to 10 years. The water goes as far as you can see.”

Of course, all that water comes from our very wet weather, which is both good news and bad news for almond growers. No one is complaining about the rains after experiencing five years of drought, which left many trees stressed and prompted some growers to ripe out orchards because of the lack of water availability.

On the flip side, the wet stuff could trigger fungus and tree diseases. With the recent spate of sunny weather, growers have been moving quickly to apply fungicides, especially in the older trees, which are more susceptible to diseases than younger ones, Jenna says. You don’t want diseases harming the crop.

In the meantime, bees are out in full force pollinating the orchards. Jenna reminds growers to be mindful of bee health.

The blossoms are attracting lots of bees.
Studies have shown a reduction of bees foraging on almond blossoms shortly after fungicide applications and bee toxicity in some cases.

What can growers do? One tip is making sure the tank sprayer is clean and free of insecticide residue. If possible, it’s best to apply fungicides at the end of blossom.

Jenna points out that the weather is warming up as we head toward spring. That means growers need to be very vigilant because the orchard environment can change suddenly.

“Insects can flare up. Fungus and tree diseases can spread like wild fire,” Jenna said.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Lots of Rain, Wind and Sun: Ingredients for an Interesting Year for Valley Growers

Lots of bees are flying around the orchards.
We’ve had rain. We’ve had wind. And we’ve had sun.

Rain, wind and sun. Rain wind and sun.

And so it’s been around the Valley as well as mostof the entire soggy Golden State this winter.
Here we are at the end of February and we may be looking at more stormy days and nights if the ground hog’s foreshadowing earlier this month of more winter weather ahead of us holds true.

If growers had their way, they’d dispense with the winds and wet stuff today. That’s especially true for almond growers.

“The pollinators are out in full force. Bees are everywhere,” field scout Jenna Mayfield says. Yes, you certainly can say orchards are buzzing with activity as bees work their magic throughout the hundreds of thousands of acres of almond orchards across the Valley and state.
Soggy orchard floors require aerial spraying of trees.

In some parts of the Valley, younger trees are showing signs of blossoming. The older ones are nearing pink bud, Jenna says. The pollination season is in full swing for almonds.

Of course, the bees certainly can do without the steady rains that have left orchard floors swampy and 60 mph winds that uproot trees in recent weeks. Jenna notes some trees that were stressed by years of drought developed shallow roots and were easily toppled by the strong winds.

Meanwhile growers are looking to apply fungicides to their trees because of the rains. However, the soggy ground has made it impossible to bring spray rigs into the orchards. As a result, larger farming operations have relied on helicopters to spray the fungicides.

Jenna notes that the smaller farms can’t afford to spend money for expensive aerial applications. “We’re probably going to see a lot of disease and fungus problems at the smaller farms.”

These almond trees are close the pink bud.
We always say farming is very unpredictable from year to year. It will be especially true this season on the pest and disease management front. 

“We don’t really know what is going to happen with pests and diseases in the orchards,” Jenna says. What five years of drought followed by a very wet winter will bring is anyone’s guess right now.

 Already, the string of rainy days followed by sunny days is causing weeds to literally grow like weeds in almond orchards.

 “You’re going to see different kind of weeds, different kind of bugs that we haven’t seen around in quite a while.”

 Well, we can say one thing will be certain for 2017: Uncertainty.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Growers Dealing with New Pesticide Handling Rules

Rules, rules and more rules.

You hear that complaint from farmers quite regularly. But county ag commissioners will tell them, that rules and regulations are a fact of life. And it’s important to follow them or ag inspectors could be knocking on the barn door.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s points out that the state has enacted new worker protection standards.  Growers can learn about these new rules as well as regulations on pesticides during a field day this Wednesday in Firebaugh.

Growers need to ensure worker safety  in pesticide handling..
Gilbert Urquizi, who oversees pest control operations for the Fresno Ag Commissioner’s Office, will talk about regulations and be available to answer questions at the free event sponsored by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project. The field day is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Firebaugh Mendota United Methodist Church, 1660 O St., Firebaugh.

Other speakers are: Dr. Pete Goodell of UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management, who will cover the impact of the weather on pest insects in almonds, cotton and alfalfa for the coming season; and Orvil Mckinnis, project manager of the Westside San Joaquin Valley Watershed Coalition, who will talk about the uses of pesticides and their impact on local water quality.
Continuing education credits will be available.More information about the field day is available from SJSFP Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

Here’s a quick overview from the Fresno Ag Commissioner’s Office about the new worker protection rules:
·         Pesticide safety training: Workers and handlers of pesticides are required to be trained every year.
·         Field posting notification: Growers must post signs for outdoor applications with restricted entry intervals over 48 hours.
·         Drift exposure prevention: There are new “exclusion zones” set up around application equipment up to 100 feet for outdoor applications.
·         Hazard communication: Safety data sheets must be available at a central display location.
·         Minimum age: All handlers and early entry employees must be at least 18 years old.
·         Pesticide safety information display: The pesticide safety information series has to be displayed at decontamination facilities at sites with 11 or more workers.
·         Decontamination: Employers must have available 1 gallon of water for each worker and 3 gallons for handlers.
·         Eye flushing at the mix/load site: When protection eyewear is required on the label or a closed mixing system is in use, employers must provide either from a system able to deliver 0.4 gallons per minute for 15 minutes or from six gallons of water able to flow gently for 15 minutes.
A closed mixing system for pesticides.
What is a closed mixing system?

There are engineering controls used to protect workers from dermal exposure hazards when mixing pesticides with high acute toxicity, according to the ag commissioner. The dermal toxicity of a pesticide is determined by the caution statements on the label.

Regulators have established a new tiered mitigation system based on the chemical’s caution label.

A Tier 1 closed mixing system is now required for workers who handle pesticides with a dermal hazard statement on the label that reads something like “fatal if absorbed through the skin.” This closed mixing system must be able to enclose the pesticide while removing the chemical from its original container. Each emptied container must be rinsed and drained while attached to the closed mixing system.

A Tier 2 closed mixing system is required for workers who handle pesticides with the warning label that reads something like “may be fatal if absorbed through skin” or “corrosive, causes skin damage.”  This mixing system must prevent pesticides from having contact with the handler. However, the container is not required to be rinsed while still attached to the system.

Growers should contact their local agricultural commissioner office for more information.