Monday, March 19, 2012

Winter Gives Way to Spring: Let the 2012 Growing Season Begin

Winter sure is going out with a storm. This past weekend’s storms brought up to 1.5 inches of rain in Fresno and more than a half-inch in Firebaugh. Still, no one is declaring a March Miracle, especially for farmers.
With spring arriving Tuesday, we now can look forward with what I consider the start of the 2012 growing season. Ag activity around the Valley certainly is picking up.
The alfalfa crop is growing nicely.

Alfalfa growers are adding nitrogen and nutrients to give their crop one final boost before the first harvest. Herbicide and pesticide applications have taken place. Growers are treating for alfalfa weevils and a light amount of aphids found in various areas. From what I have seen so far, pest pressure is normal for this time of year. I expect the first cutting for alfalfa to occur in about two to three weeks. The crop is coming along quite nicely.

Beehives are moving out of the orchards.
In the almond orchards, the bees are finished buzzing around doing their important pollination chore for the season. Beekeepers are removing hives from the orchards and heading off for their next job. Most trees escaped damage from the frost that hit our area a few weeks ago. Overall, I’m seeing almond trees with a nice crop set this season. That bodes well for a good producing year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still months to go before harvest time.

Right now, almond growers are treating for mites and diseases, especially for shot hole, a fungus that survives in infected twigs and as spores on healthy buds, according to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management website. Because of the relatively mild and dry winter, growers are seeing early signs of mites. Check out UC IPM for more information about mites.

Cotton growers have completed pre-irrigating their fields.
The last of the cotton growers – those with sandy soil – have wrapped up pre-irrigation of their fields. Those with clay and loam soils are starting to work their field beds. Cotton seeds are arriving. Expect the rebound in cotton acreage the past couple of years to end this year, thanks to soft global commodity prices and a drop in federal water allocations in the Westside. Many growers will put more emphasis on other crops such as almonds. But that’s farming for you.
For me, spring means spending more time in the field. This week, I’ll start my weekly field scouting with alfalfa. I’ll be sending out reports to growers participating in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project. Give me a shout if you see me driving around.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ready to Spring Forward with This Year's Growing Season

Valley almond orchards are showing their brilliant colors.

With daylight lasting longer every day, activity is picking up in the fields and orchards across the San Joaquin Valley. I expect it to get a lot busier next week as we spring forward with Daylight Savings Time coming up this weekend. Longer, sunlit days certainly signal another growing season is upon us.

Cotton growers pre-irrigating their fields.
Cotton growers are continuing to pre-irrigate their fields in preparation of the spring planting. Those with sandy soil are just starting pre-irrigation.

Around the orchards, there is a sea of white and pale pink lighting up the landscape. Trees are in full bloom – a spectacular sight and wonderful Kodak moment for photo buffs. Small leaves are already developing on the trees.

Impact of shot hole fungus.
UC IPM photo/Jack Kelly Clark
While there was steady snow falling in the mountains, the late-winter storm didn’t produce much rain on the Valley floor. We had anywhere from a 1/10th to 1/20th of an inch of rain. Still to guard against disease and what rain we had, a lot of growers are applying their second bloom spray. That will prevent brown rot blossom blight and shot hole fungus from developing. Thanks to the warm weather, bees have been active pollinating the almond trees.

 You can see the visible signs of  brown rot blossom blight.
                                                 UC IPM photo/Jack Kelly Clark
The alfalfa crop is growing nicely. I anticipate the first cutting to take place in about three weeks – a little earlier than the usual because of the mild winter. Growers are now treating for alfalfa weevils as well as weeds. Some are combining treatments with one application to save on labor costs. Growers should keep in mind that it’s a good practice to rotate their chemicals to avoid long-term pesticide resistance.

Growers are treating for alfalfa weevils.
If you want to learn more about pest management guidelines for alfalfa weevils, the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) program offers a wealth of information through its website. UC IPM also offers tips about weed management for alfalfa.

Water update: Despite last week’s heavy dusting of snow in the Sierra Nevada, the water outlook remains iffy for Valley growers, especially those in the Westlands Water District. The Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial forecast of 30 percent water allocation. Westlands General Manager Thomas Birmingham called the announcement both “disappointing” given the near-record amount of water stored in reservoirs and “outstanding” in light of the dry conditions this winter. That is prompting some growers to cut back on their cotton planting this year and opt for other crops such as tomatoes. I’m sure we haven’t heard the rest of this story. To be continued…