Monday, July 23, 2012

Things Are Pretty Quiet in the Valley of the Cotton

 Picture lush green cotton fields with the mighty Sierra Nevada or Coast Range in the background. You’re almost hypnotized by the wavy lines coming from the air rising off the hot summertime ground. There is a sense of calmness across the Valley.
Weather conditions are ideal for cotton this summer.

Indeed, things are pretty calm for cotton and alfalfa growers so far. While everyone is quite busy tending to their fields, there isn’t a lot excitement taking place. No major bug infestations. No big worries about plant diseases. No surprises from Mother Nature. We hope it stays that way.

My crystal ball says we’re about two weeks away from cut-out. That will indicate how much cotton will be in the “basket” by the fall harvest.

At the moment, I’m spotting a little more lygus and worms (primarily loopers with a few beet armyworms) during my field scouting rounds. Recently, one grower treated his field for lygus while another treated for both lygus and worms. I estimate only about a quarter of the growers whose fields I check regularly have treated their fields for pests. That’s a good sign.

Lygus damage to a square. The pest is still worrisome.
As you know, lygus remain a threat through cutout and final boll set. Beet armyworms will destroy small bolls during early July. Check out UC IPM online for more information about lygus and armyworms in cotton.

Watch out for the cabbage looper.
                                - UC IPM photo
This time of year, cabbage loopers are the main worm threat – the alfalfa looper is found in May and early June. Loopers will chew off leaves on the cotton plant, causing the fruit to mature too fast. However, these pests aren’t too numerous to cause significant damage and can be kept under control by natural enemies such as pirate bugs. Here’s the UC IPM link about loopers.

Overall, it has been a light year for crop-damaging bugs all over the Valley – not just this area. More growers following sustainable farming practices has certainly helped. They are using biological controls such a natural habits or strip cutting alfalfa fields to keep pests from migrating to neighboring cotton fields. I call that smart farming.

A calm year for bugs along with good summer Valley heat translates into ideal growing conditions for cotton. I’m seeing plants with 14 fruiting branches. On average, plants are at 7 to 8 nodes above white flower. I can say “All’s Quiet on the Westside Front.”

The same is true for alfalfa. I’ve seen just a couple fields treated for loopers and armyworms. Growers are now into their fourth cutting and ready to irrigate their fields for the next harvest. Looking good here, too.

Summer Field Day: Don’t miss your chance to get the latest information and tips about this year’s cotton and alfalfa season on Tuesday when we’ll have our summer Cotton and Alfalfa Field Day. It’s from 10 a.m. to noon at Bowles Farming, located at the intersection of Hereford and Bisignani roads in Los Banos. The speakers are: UC IPM Advisor Dr. Pete Goodell on insects and pests in alfalfa and cotton-managing the crop through mid-season; UCCE Fresno farm advisor Dan Munk on cotton crop development and its impact on pest management; and UCCE and UC Davis alfalfa specialist Dan Putnam on current issues affecting IPM in alfalfa. Directions are available in the events section of the Sustainable Cotton Project’s website –

I want to thank Walt Bentley of UC IPM and UCCE Merced’s David Doll for their informative presentations at our Almond Field Day last week. The turnout was very good. More than three dozen growers and pest control advisors received great advice about pest and diseases issues as they preparing for the harvest. I’ll have more about almonds next time.

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