Monday, December 24, 2012

'Tis the Season for Growers to Take a Little Holiday Hiatus

Winter officially blew in over the weekend, bringing rainy weather upon the San Joaquin Valley.

For many farmers and others in the ag business, ’tis the season to take some time off after a long year in the field. Central Valley Farm Scout, too, will be taking a brief holiday hiatus.

When we return next year (well in January) be prepared for some new features to go along with our old standby views from the field and guest commentary from our experts from the University of California Cooperative Extension and UC Integrated Pest Management program. We’ll be here to give more tips to farmers, consumers and anyone else interested in sustainable agriculture, food and fiber. Stay tuned.

So on this day before Christmas, when all through the barn not a creature is stirring, not even the dog we hang our sweep net by the chimney with care in hopes that our farm advisor will soon be there.

The PCAs are nestled all snug in their white pick-ups while visions of lygus danced in their heads.

 And the farmer in his floppy sun hat and I in my John Deere cap, have settled our brains for a long winter’s retreat.
Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Now is the Time for Almond Growers to Tackle NOW

  It's time to get rid of the
mummy nuts in the trees.
            - UC IPM photo 
The message never gets old for Walt Bentley, the well-known entomologist and almond specialist in the Valley. Time after time, especially during the winter months, Bentley stresses the importance of orchard sanitation.

No, that doesn’t mean bringing out the mops and Spic’n Span cleaner. The UC Integrated Pest Management emeritus advisor means cleaning up those mummy nuts from the almond trees. This is really important to growers with soft shell varieties, particularly the popular nonpareils.

Ideally, Walt takes a no tolerance approach: Knock off and get rid of every mummy nut in each tree. UC IPM guidelines say trees should get down to two or fewer mummy nuts.

Navel orangeworm are threat to the almond crop.
Winter, just a few days away, is good time to take a tour of the orchard and see what those mummy loads are. “That’s where navel orangeworm (NOW) gets it foothold. You need to get those down before spring to eliminate that pest from the orchard,” he says.

To the $2 billion almond industry, NOW is considered one of the most serious pests in almonds. The bugs can cause serious economic damage and risk to human health. The worms bore into the nut and gobble up most of the nutmeat. It also can lead to aflatoxin contamination.

Aflatoxin is produced by Aspergillus mold, which are known carcinogens and mutagens. The Almond Board of California points out that major export markets are imposing increasingly strict maximum limits for aflatoxin contamination.

That’s why Walt never tires of spreading the word about orchard sanitation and managing NOW in the orchard as the first line of defense against aflatoxin contamination. Now is the time to get out there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thank Mother Nature for Breaking the Lygus Cycle in Cotton Across the Valley

Dr. Pete Goodell at a cotton field day.

Editor’s note: This week we feature a guest blog by Dr. Pete Goodell, a Cooperative Extension Advisor, Integrated Pest Management with the University of California Statewide IPM Program. Dr. Goodell offers his recap of this year’s cotton season.

The 2012 cotton season from an insect pest management perspective was a good one with very few problems in the valley field crops, especially with Lygus.

I attribute that primarily to the dry winter which broke the cycle for lygus in particular. We saw the lowest populations this year in cotton, safflower and even seed alfalfa. Overall across the valley we saw much  lower Lygus population densities.

Cotton growers experienced few problems with lygus.
Avoiding insecticides enabled them to save money on insecticides while conserving natural enemies which are important in the management of aphids, spider mites and whiteflies.

The season turned out to be very good from a crop production standpoint as well. Even though, growers experienced a delayed planting due to cool and moist conditions in March,  but when the cotton was finally planted, everything went in within a few weeks. Good conditions for germination and stand development create almost a synchronous cotton landscape with all fields nearly at the same stage of development through the year, A good vigorous start to the season improves the pest management situation by giving the plant an advantage over pests.

Growers had adequate water supplies for their crop in 2012.
Water availability was not a major factor in production. The autumn was warm and provided plenty of opportunity to make up for the delayed planting. Yields have been very good and most farmers seem happy by the results of this year’s efforts.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cotton Growers Plowing Down before Plowing Ahead to 2013

 The last of the Valley cotton came off the plants just in time before the late-fall rains arrived at the end of last week. That should give growers plenty of time to meet this month’s deadlines for growers to plow down their fields.
California cotton growers have been doing a
good job keeping the pink bollworm at bay.

The Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office reminds growers about the importance of complying with the program to provide a host-free period for the pink bollworm. This year, 334 bollworms moths were caught in 2012 – a record high capture rate in the county. The deadline is December 20 for fields north of Shields Avenue and December 31 south of Shields.

Growers that harvested early are way ahead, having plowed down their fields already and even setting up beds for next year’s tomato crop. Here is how the Kern County Agricultural Commissioner describes how cotton plants should be destroyed, or plowed down:

(1) Shredding. All cotton stalks and debris shall be shredded by a power driven shredding device in a manner which effectively reduces stalks to a particle size permitting burial and decomposition and assures that bolls remaining in the field are broken open and the parts scattered.

(2) Tillage. Following shredding as required above, the land on which any cotton plants were growing during the preceding season shall be tilled in such a manner that stubs are uprooted and loosened from soil around their roots. Roots, plant stubs, shredding debris and trash remaining from harvesting or clean-up operations shall be mixed with surface soil.

Pink bollworms can over-winter in plant debris, the cotton stalk base or cracks in the soil.  They will damage squares and bolls. Plow-down will kill these pests. You can learn more about the pink bollworm from the University of California Integrated Pest Management website.
Cotton yields per acre are better than average this season.

Growers certainly want to produce another good crop next year. The 2012 season is shaping up to be very good one with many growers getting yields averaging 3.5 to 4 bales an acre for acala varieties. I saw two fields yielding an extraordinary 4.6 and 4.9 bales an acre. Three bales per acre is usually the norm.
For pima cotton, I’m seeing fields come in producing 2.5 to 3 bales an acre, better than the usual average of about 2 bales.

Why the above-average yields? It’s tough to pin down a single answer. There were a lot of different factors, including better sustainable farming practices, hot weather and no major problems with lygus. I’m glad to see growers becoming more knowledgeable about monitoring their fields closely before hastily treating their fields.

Almond crack out samples revealed no major pest issues.
Meanwhile, here’s a final update from our almond scout, Jenna Horine. She has completed cracking and inspecting the almond samples collected in various orchards – more than 5,000 in all. The good news is Jenna didn’t find any surprises. The pest damage numbers were low. For example, about one out of 100 samples had evidence of navel orangeworm damage. “For most, we have very, very low numbers,” she says. These results will help growers develop their pest management strategy for next year.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cotton Season May Have Started Slow, but It Ended Fast

UCCE Fresno County Farm Advisor Dan Munk.

Editor’s Note: This week, we are pleased to present a guest blogger, Dan Munk, a farm advisor and cotton specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension, Fresno County. Dan offers his recap of the year in cotton in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

The 2012 cotton season is turning out to be a very good season from a producer standpoint. We had good planting conditions.

While cotton was slightly behind what would have been ideal start, we still planted within a good-to-ideal window in early spring. We then saw from average to slightly above average heat units, particularly as we moved later into the season.

Cotton requires a full season to mature. We saw good early maturity. We saw first flower in mid- to late-June, which was really positive. That told us that we were setting the crop really early. When you set the crop early it allows you to sometimes to continue to prove? and expand that fruit set.

The first flower came out in mid- to late June this year.
What we saw was that everything set so well that we did have early cut out this year. That meant we had early maturing cotton. That was a positive thing because we were able to harvest early and not be too concerned about fog, rain and these kinds of problems that we sometimes have when we have a late season like we had the last couple of years.

 Right now growers were reporting above average yields. Some growers are seeing indications of near record yields.

Growers didn't worry about much rain or fog during harvest.
We are looking forward to another great season in 2013. If you are interested in joining our project, contact Marcia Gibbs, Director at

Monday, November 19, 2012

BMPs Pay Off in the Long Run for Valley Almond Growers

This Thanksgiving Valley growers will certainly be thankful for a bountiful harvest in 2012. That definitely is the case with almond growers who are poised to challenge the record 2.03 billion pounds of almonds harvested last year. They cannot achieve those eye-popping harvest numbers without growers embracing sustainable farming practices. Kudos to these growers.

Retired entomologist Walt Bentley
Before we wrap up this almond season, we again asked retired UC IPM entomologist and almond expert Walt Bentley to give us another recap of the 2012 season:

I would say that the miticides used to control mites worked quite well and brought populations down quickly. There were some scattered mite problems which developed during harvest, with growers  not
having enough time to apply a miticide due to pre-harvest intervals.  This
issue needs to be discussed in our winter meetings.

We are still applying more worm sprays on hardshell almond varieties than needed. But the
Removing mummy nuts is the key to orchard sanitation.
cultural and chemical controls were good.  I was particularly impressed with the sanitation on winter mummies. It was much better than 2011.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of walking through your orchard – just taking some time each week to look at the trees.  Some farmers are great at that while others abdicate that duty to their pest control advisors.

Remember that fall is here. Growers need to put on their post-harvest irrigation. That is extremely important on sandy soils in central and southern San Joaquin.

Adding cover crops can help improve water infiltration.
                               - University of California photo
Also, take time to review your fertilization program. Get the analysis and plan your approach for next spring.
Try to get a handle on areas where water infiltration was bad, particularly due to compaction. Growers should plan on remedying that either mechanically or with cover crops.

We had no problems with stickbugs or leaffooted bugs this year. Keep up the best management practices. A little work now will pay nice dividends at harvest time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Almost Time to Sew Up Another Cotton Season in the Valley

Growers were harvesting an average of 3 to 4 bales of cotton per acre.

 More than 180 days ago, San Joaquin Valley growers planted the seeds for a new cotton crop with visions of a profitable year. Now over 4,300 hours later, growers are reaping a bountiful harvest.

I’m seeing most growers coming away with an average of 3 to 4 bales of cotton per acre in their fields. One acala cotton grower generated an eye-popping five bales an acre.

Cotton module is ready to be picked up and taken to the gin.
Usually, getting three bales an acre is considered a good harvest. Four bales is a great crop. How would I describe five bales? Amazing!

Gins are busy processing the cotton.
Overall, growers are reporting a solid year as we pretty much wind down the 2012 cotton  season. Acala growers wrapped up their picking about a week ago. The later-maturing pima variety is still out there with growers picking cotton for a second time. Growers were hurrying with their final picking before the rains arrived at the end of last week.

The warm weather and pretty dry October (as well as fewer foggy mornings) have played roles in getting the cotton harvest done before Thanksgiving. Overall, growers are happy with the 2012 yield.

Bales of cotton are loaded and ready to be shipped out.
On the bug front this year, growers saw pest pressure yo-yo from low early to high late in the season. For the most part, the pests didn’t lead to substantial crop damage.

As the final cotton is picked, the last task for growers will be to plow under their fields to protect against the pink bollworm. Two years ago, heavy rain storms created muddy field conditions and forced growers to race to meet the state-imposed deadline. Some county ag commissioners had to extend the deadline because of the weather.

 Around here, some acala growers have already plowed down their fields and even prepared the beds for next season. With this year a wrap, there’s only five more months till the first seeds are planted.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Favorable Conditions Yield Good Harvest for Valley Almond Growers

Almond expert Walt Bentley offers tips at a past field day.

Editor’s note: This week, we are featuring a guest blog by one of our long-time collaborators, recently retired UC IPM entomologist Walt Bentley, whose specialty included managing pests in almonds.

For San Joaquin Valley almond growers, the 2012 season would be considered a normal year. In fact, across California you could say producing 2 billion pounds of almonds for a second straight year is becoming the norm across California.

Yes, conditions were good this season for growers to approach the record 2.03 billion pounds of almonds harvested in 2011. The crop has shaped up well again this year.

Spider mites were an issue in 2012.
The spring was warmer than in 2011.  We did have some rain and cold weather during bloom. However, I think the wintry-spring weather reduced nonpareil pollination and, ultimately, hurt this season’s yields for that variety.

Certainly the summer was above average with 25 days of 100-plus temperatures in July and August. This hot weather did impact trees, leading to  water stress and subsequent spider mite problems.  Spider mites became an issue during the hullsplit period. Orchards that are well irrigated usually don’t suffer from mite problems.
Wintry-spring weather hurt nonpareil pollination.
Remember, mites reproduce fast during the warm-weather months from June to September. In fact, mites can develop within a week with 8 to 10 generations a season, according to the University of California Integrated Pest Management.

High yields expected in '12.
Mites will damage foliage by sucking cell contents from leaves. Leaves can become yellow and fall off. When there are large populations webbing can be found on the tree terminals. There can be a crop reduction in crop a year after the damage occurs.

I don't believe there were any surprises other than the poor yields on nonpareils. Overall, yields of the hardshell varieties are good. Nonpareil yields are more varied. Next time, I will recap the pest management issues for the 2012 season.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Weather, Cotton Harvest and Monitoring Moisture

 Thanks to Mother Nature, the cotton harvest took a brief respite last week.

Rapid rise in module temperatures means  moisture issues.
Only four days after fall temperatures climbed into the mid-90s, the skies turn dark and cloudy, dropping a quarter inch of rain on the defoliated cotton fields last Monday. The wet fiber suddenly idled the cotton harvesters.  Growers had to wait several days for the cotton to dry out before resuming harvest activities late last week.

If growers pick cotton that has high moisture content, there’s a strong chance that mildew will develops in harvested fiber. Wet cotton also impacts the cotton quality during the ginning process.

I found some interesting articles about monitoring moisture during the cotton harvest and moisture management and the ginning process by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA.
The late October rain we experience is pretty normal for the San Joaquin Valley. If you look at the National Weather Service’s historical statistics, we usually get about two-tenths to a quarter inch of rain around the 20th of the month. What make it unusual is the weather seemed to turn on a dime.

In fact, on Thursday, October 18 (just a day before our annual Cotton Farm Tour), the daily high temperature climbed to 95 degrees, tying the record high set in 1905. By the following Monday, the rains came and temperatures plummeted with the daily high reaching only 63 degrees, just a degree off the all-time record for lowest maximum temperature that day. The good news: the rain didn’t knock any cotton to the ground.

Warmer temperatures over the past weekend and clear weather forecast for the rest of this week bodes well for growers. This should allow them to make up for lost time and move forward with the harvest. I anticipate this year’s harvest will continue through November with the late-season pima variety fully picked after Thanksgiving.

Rain added moisture to cotton in the fields.
 Meanwhile, the rain is likely to affect alfalfa growers trying to squeeze out one more cutting before calling it quit for the season. The freshly cut alfalfa that drying on the ground absorbed enough moisture to degrade the quality of the hay. That means growers will receive less money for their final cutting. That said, we can close the chapter on this year’s alfalfa season.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Cotton Harvest Creates Kodak Moments for Visitors

As I led pair of tour buses across the Valley last Friday, you could see sure signs that the cotton season is in the final stretch run.

Some fields were already harvested and ready for plow down. Some were still drying in the warm fall sun. And others were in the middle of harvest.

Cotton Tour participants loved to capture close-up photos.
Indeed, in one field just outside of Firebaugh, the harvest was in full swing with a flurry of activity. The tour buses drove up a dusty dirt road and pulled to a stop near a module builder packing in the freshly-picked cotton. Some 100 visitors carrying notebooks and camera stepped off the buses, eager to watch the cotton picker and boll buggies in action. Some climbed up the steps of the module builders to get a closer look at the machinery. Others inspected a harvester on display.
Many people took notes from speakers.

UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Dan Munk of Fresno
County  talked about weeds and irrigation issues.

Smile: Posing with colored cotton grown by Windfall Farms.

Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM talked about biodiversity.
Once again our annual Cotton Farm Tour last week provided a diverse group of people – from fashion retail designers to state and U.S. agriculture officials – a unique glimpse of the world of cotton production and the work and dedication of California cotton growers.

As one participant summed it up, “This is a nice experience. You get to know where your clothes come from.”

My sweep net caught good and bad bugs.

I want to thank growers who hosted our visitors, the Silver Creek Gin and our cotton experts from University of California Cooperative Extension and Integrated Pest Management. I’ll share more information and insights from our growers and experts in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Farm Tour: Getting Up Close with Cotton in the Field

Cotton balls consumers are used to.

You touch it, use it and even eat it – probably every morning, afternoon and night.

Yes, cotton is something you can’t avoid, whether you’re putting on a shirt, spending a couple bucks or enjoying a dish of gourmet ice cream.  For most people, cotton is the fluffy ball of brilliant white fiber stuffed in cosmetic bags and vitamin bottles.
Cotton balls found at the source.

Every fall, about 100 people, including representatives from some of the world’s largest clothing retailers, are treated to a unique opportunity to touch, smell and pick cotton directly from the source – the cotton plant in the field. Our annual Cotton Farm Tour, scheduled this year on Friday, October 15, is one of the few programs in the entire country that offers such an event to the public.

I’m proud to say our Sustainable Cotton Project (SCP) has organized this free all-day event for more than a decade. We’ve hosted more than 1,000 people who have traveled from as far as Asia to come on our tour of the San Joaquin Valley cotton fields.

Busloads of visitors will tour cotton fields once again.
Don’t be surprised to see two large tour buses going up and down the dusty country roads and highways in the north Valley this week. The tour is packed with lots of good information. For farmers and University of California farm advisors and cotton experts, it’s a chance to educate the public about cotton production. We get a chance to tell people about the environmentally responsible practices embraced by growers in the SCP program and how we are marketing the Cleaner Cotton™ they grow.

A cotton gin visit is always popular.
I enjoy meeting participants, talking about field scouting and answering their many questions. Some of the common questions include the length of the cotton growing season, amount of chemicals used in cotton production, water usage and how the cotton is harvested. Most are surprised to find the raw cotton contains seeds. I’ll have some highlights in my next post.

As a reminder, the tour is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and begins at the Best Western Apricot Inn at Interstate 5 and West Panoche Road, about 23 miles southwest of Firebaugh. More information is available at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. There’s still time to get on the waiting list.

Modules are ready to store harvested cotton.
Meanwhile, some of the acala growers have started to harvest their crop. Harvesting should pick up this week, especially as crews finish picking processing tomatoes and cantaloupes. Many of these crews also are used to harvest cotton. Picking could start this week for pima varieties. Growers will harvest the pima crop twice. The second one is needed to collect the seed fiber from late-maturing bolls.
 For alfalfa growers, we pretty much can call it a wrap for the season.  Growers should check the UC IPM online site for seasonal tips on a year-long IPM program for alfalfa.

Monday, October 8, 2012

As Almond Acreage Increases, So Does the Education Need

 More and more, almonds are big business in the Central Valley. Just look at the statistics from local agricultural commissioners.

In 2003, growers harvested 236,000 acres of almonds in Madera, Merced and Fresno counties. By 2011, that total climbed 43 percent to 337,512 acres. Over that same period, Fresno alone saw harvested acreage skyrocket 131 percent to 150,000 acres.

We’ve seen this trend first hand. Our almond field days are attracting a lot of new faces. Needless to say these new almond growers can benefit from the many educational and technical resources out there. We help almond growers farm more sustainably while implementing environmentally responsible practices.

Field scout Jenna Horine checks almonds earlier this spring.
Our almond field scout Jenna Horine is wrapping up her field work as the harvest winds down. The word around the orchards is we’re headed toward another banner year.  Indeed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts the harvest will exceed 2 billion pounds and top last season’s record-breaking year. Almonds fetch $3 billion a year and continue to be the state’s No. 1 export crop.
To keep up this record pace, we can never stress enough to growers that they need to maintain vital pest management activities during and after harvest. I’m sure our next almond field day will offer valuable postharvest tips.

It's time to start cracking on samples.
At this time, almond sampling and crack out are major tasks. Jenna will be cracking open more than 5,000 almonds collected in the orchards of growers who participate in our program. These nuts were gathered before growers picked them up from the ground and shipped them out to the hullers.
While collecting samples and cracking the nuts are tedious tasks, this process pays off in the long run. It’s worth the investment.

Jenna will examine the nut meat and record any damage from disease or pests such as navel orangeworm and ants. This information is an important aid to help growers modify their pest management program next season. We’ll keep you posted on Jenna’s findings.
Peach twig borer damage to the meat.

Ant damage found in these nuts.
Nuts damaged by navel orangeworm.
Meanwhile, cotton defoliation continues with the pima varieties receiving their second shot of defoliants.  Some of the acala growers could start harvesting this week. That’s exciting.

Broadview Gin emphasizes safety at meeting.
The cotton gins are starting to gear up as well. Broadview Gin, for example, conducted a safety and teamwork meeting for employees last week as the facility prepared for incoming fiber. I expect the gins will start processing the cotton by the end of the month.

In the alfalfa fields, growers are finished with their seventh cutting. Because of the hot weather last week, some growers were thinking about squeezing in an eighth harvest. But temperatures suddenly headed south and may force growers to scrap the idea.

Monday, October 1, 2012

There Are Sure Signs the Cotton Harvest is Fast Approaching

 Did you see the speculator Harvest Moon lighting up the night sky over the weekend? It’s a sure sign fall has arrived.

Around here, it means the Big Fresno Fair, Oktoberfest and, of corse, the cotton harvest are just around the corner. As I drove around the Valley last week, I saw a flurry of activity in the fields. Cotton plant defoliation is in full swing, especially in the acala varieties.

Cotton defoliation is in full swing throughout the Valley.
For the most part, the timing is perfect for defoliation.  The acala plants are averaging 4 to 5 nodes above cracked boll, which is around the target the University of California Integrated Pest Management recommends for scheduling defoliation.

I’m seeing the pima varieties, which are usually harvested later into the season, at about 5 to 6 nodes above cracked boll. By the end of this week, we should see Pima growers starting to apply their harvest aids.

At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first acala cotton harvested between October 10 and 15.
On the pest front, some growers have treated for aphids as a safeguard to prevent sticky cotton. Those with light aphid problems are going straight to the defoliation process.

Alfalfa growers are wrapping up for the season. Some are trying to squeeze out one more cutting and irrigating their crop. Growers are counting on the summer-like fall weather to spurt growth one last time.

We certainly baked this summer. Our August heat wave was followed last month by more above average high temperatures. Consider this from the National Weather Service: The average high temperature was 96.9 degrees in September. That’s almost seven degrees above the historic average of 91 degrees. In fact,the Fresno area experienced the warmest August and September on record. We expect temperatures to hover around triple-digit temperatures through Wednesday as well. Our Indian Summer sure feels more like real summer.

Nut sampling can indicate pest damage in almond orchards.
In the meantime, the almond harvest remains in full swing. Tree shaking is pretty much universal for all nut varieties now, reports our almond field scout Jenna Horine. Nuts are usually left on the ground eight to 10 days to dry before they’re swept up, loaded onto trucks and transported to the huller.

Remember, UC IPM recommends growers take samples before delivering the nuts to the huller. This lets you know what pests are in the orchard and helps with pest management planning next year. Jenna has collected all the samples from the orchards she scouts regularly. She plans to start crack-out within a week. We’ll let you know what she finds.
Cotton Tour participants will be seeing a harvester at work.

Cotton Tour Registration: Our annual event is filling up fast. While the event is free, participants need to reserve a spot for the all-day event on Friday, October 19. The tour begins at the Best Western Apricot Inn at Interstate 5 and West Panoche Road, about 23 miles southwest of Firebaugh. Go to the Sustainable Cotton Project website to sign up.