Monday, April 2, 2012

It's the Calm Before the Storm

Once again, Mother Nature is playing a starring role around the Valley.

Rainy weather continues to lead to starts and stops for farmers trying to get ready for this year’s growing season. In the past week, we had anywhere from a quarter inch to a half inch of rain with another two-tenths over the weekend. April showers are expected again this week.

These early spring storms are putting a damper on growers working the cotton beds and dealing with weeds as they to prepare for planting later this month.

I liken this to the calm before the storm of farm activity that will in full swing in the coming weeks. For now, the National Weather Service channel is certainly one of the most popular radio stations for farmers.
Indeed, we need soil temperatures to warm up before the first cotton seeds can be planted. Once again, the local NOAA Weather Service provides a critical role in forecasting five-day temperature forecasts.

UC Cooperative Extension and the UC IPM Program have been providing cotton planting forecasts to cotton growers and PCAs for over 20 years. This system is now available for the 2012 season. This forecast, with the planting guidelines, should be used in conjunction with soil temperatures (at seed depth) above 58 F at 8 a.m. for timely, vigorous seedling establishment. Remember, it is the soil temperature at planting depth which might require moving some soil if your planting beds have not been shaped. Since March 1, five-day forecasted temperatures have been less than 12 dd >60 degrees, which is in the unfavorable and marginal planting categories.

A parasitic wasp helps control weevils.
- UC IPM photo by Jack Kelly Clark
The recent weather is certainly affecting the alfalfa crop. Our mild temperatures – as Goldilocks would say neither “too hot” nor “too cold” – creates ideal conditions for alfalfa weevils. There have been some reports of poor control, which may related to application, environmental conditions or more troubling, increased tolerance. 

As a result, there may be the temptation to use materials such as Lorsban. My suggestion is to avoid organophosphates (OP). Using OPs may be effective for a few days, but they can open a Pandora’s Box. You don’t want to wipe out the natural enemies to alfalfa pests.

These are alfalfa weevil larvae I found.
Here’s a good example. During my field scouting, I’ve found quite a few aphids in some alfalfa fields. So far, parasitic wasps have been able to keep aphids under control.  If you used broad spectrum materials, you would wipe out the good bugs as well and end up with more pest management headaches down the line. For more information, you can refer to UC’s Year-Round IPM program for alfalfa.

Here's damage from alfalfa weevils.
On the harvest front, I saw a farmer already doing his first alfalfa cutting of the season. Despite the rainy weather, he was probably getting a jump on his first harvest to take advantage of the good alfalfa commodity prices. But that move could be costly if we get more wet weather and mold develops in his crop.

Most alfalfa growers are waiting the weather out.  I see a lot of real tall alfalfa out there. It usually takes a good 10 days to for the alfalfa to be dry enough for harvest. For now, growers are weathering the storms and getting as much work in as they can.

Field Day Alert: Don’t miss our first Almond Field Day of the year. It will be from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, April 19 in Los Banos.  The Almond Doctor, also known as pomologist David Doll of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, and veteran entomologist Walt Bentley of UC IPM will share their expertise as they discuss the fruit development period. We’ll meet at an almond orchard at the corner of Mercy Springs and Cotton Gin roads in Los Banos. Look for the field day signs. You can also find directions at the Sustainable Cotton Project’s events website. Tell a friend.

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