Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sustainable Irrigation Blossoming in Cotton

As you drive around the San Joaquin Valley this summer, you might notice something different going on in some of the cotton fields. You might ask, “Where’s the water?”
Well, the answer is simple: It’s underground.
More cotton growers are using subsurface drip irrigation.

I’m seeing more growers turn to subsurface drip irrigation this season – even with the wet winter and spring and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation boosting water allocations to 80 percent of normal. Still, everyone around here is still conscious of the devastating drought. That’s one reason why a small group of growers see drip as a sustainable way to irrigate.

This year, almost a third of our Cleaner Cotton growers are using drip irrigation in their cotton fields. In 2010, we had only one grower use drip.

Cotton is a good rotation crop for tomatoes, which are irrigated by drip systems. With the buried drip tape already in place, cotton growers don’t have to spend money to install a new system for their cotton crop.

Drip has an advantage over conventional furrow irrigation. It’s more efficient because you can apply water uniformly to all the plants in the field. In the end, you get better boll retention and higher yields while saving on water. With cotton prices still high, growers are looking for every opportunity to increase their profit margins. Expect to see more cotton growers using drip irrigation.

Checking out first true leaf of a cotton seedling.
As I traveled around the Valley last week, I saw cotton plants at first true leaf for about 80 percent of the growers. Expect to see the first nodes in about 10 days. 

 I still haven’t seen any major signs of pest or disease problems. Plants are growing pretty uniformly. This season, growers have planted about 16 to 18 pounds of cottonseed per acre.

 For the coming week, growers should continue to monitor any signs of armyworms migrating from neighboring alfalfa fields into cotton. The pests are easy to spot. Battalions of armyworms will cross ditches and roads any time of the day, moving in a rainbow shape. I’ve seen these pests gobble up plants, leaving a rainbow-shaped path of destruction in a field.

Field Day Alert: Almond growers will want to attend our San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project’s spring almond field day next week at the Del Bosque Farms on the west side of Firebaugh. “Almond Practices for Late Spring and Summer” will be discussed 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, May 20, and feature UCCE Merced farm advisor David Doll, UC IPM entomologist Walt Bentley and Kevin Parkinson, SJSFP field scout. We have applied for 1.5 hours of CE credits.

 I will join our SCP staff at the event to learn about orchard monitoring and management tips from some of the state’s leading almond experts. Check our SCP website for directions and additional details.

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