Monday, February 20, 2012

Looks Like Spring in the Valley, But Calendar Says It's Winter

Almond trees are coming in bloom in many Valley areas.
 It’s hard to believe spring is still a month away. As I drive around farm country in the Great Valley, I’m seeing a lot of almond trees in colorful bloom and alfalfa fields shimmering in green.

Almond growers that didn’t apply dormant sprays like copper and oil are seeing 60 to 80 percent bloom in their trees. Dormant sprays will delay bloom. Let’s hope our area isn’t hit with heavy frost or heavy winter storms, which could cause problems with these early blooming trees. That could lead to blossom rot.

Alfalfa is looking good and is long past its winter dormant stage. Farmers will let the alfalfa grow until the first cutting, which usually takes place in mid or late April.

Here's a map of the Westlands Water District.
Water officials and cotton growers are certainly checking the weather forecasts regularly and looking toward the skies for signs of more rain in the Valley and snow in the Sierra Nevadas. Rain is nature’s version of pre-irrigation.

Heard on the Farms: Growers in the Westlands Water District received some bad news last week. They won’t be able to transfer the rest of their current water allocation into next season. Since they don’t need the water right now, many farmers are letting other growers have their water to irrigate their winter crops.

 About half our growers in our San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project are in the Westlands district, which covers 600,000 acres of farmland south of Firebaugh (see the district map). Westlands growers have been anticipating a 35 to 50 percent water allocation this season. On Tuesday, the district will have its regular board meeting and I’m sure there will be an update about water availability for 2012. Stay tuned.

If water supplies becomes tight, some
growers may plant tomatoes over cotton.
In the past couple of years, cotton acreage has been on the upswing with increased water supplies and good commodity prices. Growers had talked about planting more cotton this year. But now, we may see less cotton acreage because of the water issue. Some growers will have to go to Plan B and plant less thirsty crops such as tomatoes using drip irrigation systems to conserve and maximize their water supplies. There’s no need to panic yet. There is still time before that decision will have to be made. Let’s keep that rain dance going.

Field Day Alert: Here’s a great opportunity to learn about dealing with this season’s pest management and water issues in almonds, cotton and alfalfa. SJSFP is sponsoring a free workshop from 9 a.m. to noon the Firebaugh Community Center, 1655 13th St. Firebaugh, on Tuesday, February 28.

As usual, we will have a great panel of speakers: University of California Cooperative Extension Merced pomology farm advisor David Doll (almonds); UC IPM advisor Dr. Pete Goodell (cotton and alfalfa) and entomologist Walt Bentley (almonds), Chris Linneman, Program Manager, Westside San Joaquin River Watershed Coalition, and Louie Guerra, environmental scientist with the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Three continuing education credits have been approved.

While at the event, growers in Fresno, Madera and Merced counties can sign up to participate in our annual sustainable farming program. I can vouch that SJSFP growers improve their farming practices, increase crop yields and become better environmental stewards.

For more information about the field day or to sign up, contact me at (559) 259-1981 or Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325.

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