Monday, April 30, 2012

Look Out for Almond Pests; Cotton Planting 90% Done

Almond expert Walt Bentley makes a point at our  field day.
For years, long-time entomologist Walt Bentley of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program has enlightened almond growers across the Valley with his pest management tips.

Walt, who joined Merced County UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor and pomologist David Doll (aka the Almond Doctor), at our almond field day 1½ weeks ago, offers these early season observations  and tips for growers:
Walt gives growers an inside look at a developing almond.

“With the weather we have had recently, almond farmers are going to be more focused on disease management than on arthropod pests.

Certainly the conditions are not there for spider mites to develop into a problem.  As we discussed at our last meeting, there was substantial movement from the ground during bloom.

Pests causing nut gumming problem  in a cluster of almonds.
But the wet weather has resulted in reducing or eliminating these mites.  So, be patient and let’s wait till we find populations in the orchard.  Our last survey in early April resulted in no mite finds in the orchards in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming program this year.

Both peach twig borer and navel orangeworm are being monitored but the pests are not active. Once it warms, we will be seeing either moths (PTB) or eggs (NOW) in traps.  Currently, it looks like populations will be climbing in early May.

The pests to search for are leaffooted and stink bugs.  These both became active during the last warm spell in early April. However, we didn’t find them or their damage on our survey.  

Leaffooted bugs are becoming active.
- UC IPM photo by Jack Kelly Clark
Leaffooted pests can cause damage early in the season and after shell hardening in June. Nuts damaged during or just after bloom blacken and drop. After hardening, leaffooted bug damage to the meat isn’t obvious. The tip-off is the outside hull will have little ballpoint pen-like marks on it. The damage results in the meat darkening and developing a sunken area and affecting the flavor.

I suggest going to the IPM guidelines at and read through the description of the plant bugs.  It gives an excellent guide on insecticides and monitoring.”
It's time to look out for stink bugs.
- UC IPM photo by David Haviland

Thanks Walt your valuable with almond growers. We will share more tips for almond growers in the coming weeks.

From the orchards to the fields: About 90 percent of the local cotton growers have completed planting. Those that already planted a few weeks ago raced to take off the top layer of soil covering the germinating seeds because of the mid-week rain. We had about a quarter inch of rain locally last week.

Cotton seedlings are popping up.
Growers put a “top” over the seeds to aid the germination process. Worried that the rain could make it too muddy for equipment to work in the fields and lead to seed rot, a number of growers moved quickly with their “de-topping” work to allow the seedlings to emerge.  From what I have seen, the seedlings are developing nicely.

In the alfalfa fields, growers continue to irrigate their crop to spur plant growth for the next cutting. During my scouting, I’ve noticed an increase of worms. Growers need to keep an eye out for them in May and June. Beet armyworms develop four generations in the valley and as the eggs hatch tiny caterpillars start feeding on the plant. Cutworms feed on new growth or the alfalfa foliage. You can check the UC IPM website for biological controls for alfalfa pests.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Weather Perfect for Planting the Seeds for the 2012 Cotton Crop

The heat was back. With record and near-record temperatures soaring to the mid- to upper-90s over the weekend, we can declare the warmer days of spring have finally arrived in the Valley. 

From my measurements, soil temperatures have reached the perfect threshold for growers to plant the seeds for this year’s Acala and American Pima crops. Temperatures are forecast to remain mostly in the 80s for much of this week, although we’ll have to keep an eye out for a few possible April showers Wednesday and Thursday. Seedling should start popping out of the ground over the next 10 days or so, especially if the hot weather returns later this week.

Cotton growers wrap up planting.
Cotton growers spent the past week planting their fields. They can start the 180- to 200-day countdown until the fall harvest. As expected, growers are planting fewer acres because of a variety of issues, primarily lower cotton prices, an anticipated drop in this year’s federal water allocation and strong competition from other crops.

According the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service California Crop Review released last Thursday, California growers are projected to plant 150,000 acres of upland/acala, cotton this season, down 17.6 percent from 2011. Pima acreage is forecast to drop 8.4 percent to 250,000 acres in ’12. On the bright side, the 400,000 acres is still double the acreage we had in 2009 when the drought devastated the Central Valley farm region. Nationally, the total cotton acreage this season is projected to drop 11 percent to 13.2 million acres.

2010 acres
2011 acres
2012 acres indicated
% chg from 2011

United States
10.8 mil
14.2 mil
12.9 mil
American Pima

United States


Beneficial habitat we planted in the past.
We all are looking forward to a successful and profitable year. One thing we’ve been stressing is the important role biological controls plays in managing pests to improve profits as well as air, water and soil quality.

We just finished planting beneficial insect habitats at farms participating in our San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project. These natural habitats will increase the number of natural predators (or good bugs as I like to call them) that prey on crop-damaging pests and reduce the reliance on pesticides. As some of our SJSFP farmers like to say, that’s good for the pocketbook and good for the environment and health of our community. We’ve planted mustard, corn and sunflowers along the cotton fields. I’ll post photos of our habitats later this season.

Beet armyworm on alfalfa.
UC IPM/Jack Kelly Clark
On the pest front, the alfalfa weevil population is under control with growers completing the first alfalfa cutting of the season. Now, they’re irrigating the fields for the next harvest. I’m reminding growers to keep an eye out for worms. There’s good information online about alfalfa pest management from UC IPM at

I want to thank all the growers who came to our first Almond Field Day of the season. Our UC almond experts presented a lot of good information and growers brought plenty of questions. More than 50 growers and PCAs attended the event. We’ll highlight some of the key points in next week’s blog.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Some Valley Growers Are Willing to Roll the Dice

Sometimes, it seems some farmers have a little gambling streak in them. They like to roll the dice and beat the house – or around here in farm country, Mother Nature.

With the unsettled weather lately, I’ve seen some growers willing to pick up the dice and bet their lucky numbers will come up and yield a nice financial payoff.
Ready for cotton planting.

In one cotton field in Dos Palos, for instance, I’ve seen one grower bet his early cotton planting will pay off in the late fall. Usually, pima varieties are planted earlier than acala because they take longer to mature and, thus, are the last cotton to be harvest. Most growers are holding off. In fact, this cooler weather has some growers considering a switch from planting pima to acala. Right now, that’s the back-up plan.

But there’s still enough time for soil temperatures to reach the threshold for planting. Growers can wait a couple more weeks until around April 25 – to get the pima seeds into the ground.

Overall, cotton growers are pretty much finished preparing their beds. Now it has become a waiting game for planting to start.

Cut alfalfa needed to be turned.
There’s a little game of chance going with alfalfa, as well. I’ve seen some growers bale their cut alfalfa a little early, opting to gamble on getting greenbacks now with a lower-quality, greener bale of alfalfa. Normally, newly cut alfalfa needs about eight to 10 days on the ground to dry. But those that cut the alfalfa about a week ago wound up having their harvested crop rained upon. They are betting on (and hoping for)  sunnier, warmer days this week to dry out their alfalfa.

Good bugs for alfalfa pests:
collops beetles and lady bugs.
On the bug front, I’ve been finding an increase in beneficial insects during my scouting rounds in the alfalfa fields. During my field sweeps, I’ve been finding lady bugs, minute pirates, collops beetles and assassin bugs – a natural predators to alfalfa pests. That’s a good sign. UC Integrated Pest Management offers a list of natural enemies and their common prey in alfalfa.  I am still seeing a lot of aphids around. Alfalfa weevils are down due to the alfalfa cutting. Meanwhile, I’ve been spotting some moths flying around. Growers need to keep an eye out for them.

Last Call for the Almond Field Day: Don’t forget to come to our first Almond Field Day of the season. It will be from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday at the corner of Mercey Springs and Cotton Gin roads near Los Banos. The Almond Doctor, aka  pomologist David Doll of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, and long-time 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 your friends and I will see you there.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Springtime Weather Creates Pesky Pest Concerns in Alfalfa

 There’s something bugging me and alfalfa growers lately.

As I scout the lush, green alfalfa fields across the Valley, I’ve been coming across some worrisome signs: plenty of crop-damaging pests.

Lady bugs will be a farmer's best friend this season when
 it comes  to helping them control crop-damaging pests.
As I mentioned last week, the weather conditions are perfect for alfalfa weevils to flourish and nibbling away at the alfalfa. These bugs seem to be out of control. Right now, the early spring cutting, or harvest, has been able control the weevils. Treatments, however, appear to be short-lived.

There’s more on the pest front. Aphids are becoming a concern. This is the earliest I’ve seen a heavy amount of aphids in alfalfa in the past five or six years. Mites are quite evident as well. Growers need to keep their eyes open for any signs of heavy aphid pressure.

Growers are turning their freshly cut alfalfa to get them to dry.
Another pest I’m seeing in the alfalfa fields is lygus. Usually I see lygus showing up around mid-May. Alfalfa growers need to be aware of their surroundings to prevent these pests from migrating to neighboring crops such as cotton. When tackling these pests, growers should remember the importance of chemical rotation.

 With rainy weather remaining a threat at the moment, alfalfa growers are trying to dry their freshly cut crop. Currently, growers are turning over their freshly cut alfalfa lying on the ground to dry.  The wet side, or bottom,  is flipped over to face the sun and dry before baling.

Cotton beds are ready for planting.
In the cotton fields, some growers are getting a jump on planting their seeds. Some were out planting Friday and Saturday so the seeds can germinate by Tuesday because of a threat of rain locally on Wednesday and Friday. Grower beware: planting early before soil temperatures are warm enough or in poorly drained beds can increase seedling root rots. Activity, though, is definitely picking up as growers aim to finish planting by the end of April. For now, most cotton growers are playing a waiting game with Mother Nature, waiting to spring into action.

Field Day Coming Up: Here’s another reminder about 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, aka  pomologist David Doll of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, and long-time 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. Bring a neighbor.

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.