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.