Monday, December 16, 2013

Time to Call a Wrap on the 2013 Central Valley Cotton Season

Ag official reminding growers about plowdown deadline.

 It’s time to put a bow on the 2013 cotton season.
There’s only four days left for growers who planted cotton south of Shields Avenue in Fresno County to plow down their harvested fields, according to new Ag Commissioner Les Wright. Any growers that haven’t shredded, uprooted and plowed under the cotton stalks by the Friday, December 20 deadline face a non-compliance find of $500 plus $5 an acre.
Most growers already have plowed down their cotton fields.
Fields north of Shields have until December 31 to meet the plow down requirements, which are aimed at combating the spread of pink bollworm (PBW), a global cotton pest. Plowing down the fields will kill overwintering PBW larvae.
The good news is the Ag Commissioner’s office found no native PWB moths in traps spread across the 62,215 acres of county planted this season in Fresno County. Growers can't plant cotton before March 10, 2014.  For questions about the plow down rules, contact the Ag Commissioners (559) 684-3350.
Pink bollworm larvae. - UC IPM photo
Before we start talking about next year, let’s do one final recap of 2013 with observations from cotton specialist Dr. Pete Goodell of the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management program and Dan Munk, a farm advisor and cotton production expert at UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno. 

“It was a pretty good planting season. We got off a crop pretty uniformly. It was a very nice early growing season. There were a warm spring and an early summer,” Goodell said.

“There was a lot more heat this year than in the past year, which may explain some of the later season problems that we had, especially with whiteflies statewide,” he added. Some areas, Goodell said, experienced the worst whitefly issues in 10 to 15 years. Whiteflies, however, weren’t an issue in the Firebaugh area.
Cotton growers dealt with whiteflies.

Lygus problems were moderate around the Valley. The fall harvest saw warm, but not hot temperatures and no rain, which should lead to high quality cotton. Overall, Goodell said, it was an average year for cotton growers.

 Here is Munk’s look back: “This year we had good early planting conditions. The stands established early. There was good, early flowering occurring in mid- to late-June.” That set the stage of early heat units for the crop.

Boll retention was good. Overall, Munk said, “The growers were fairly pleased with the yields that they saw.”

   So it’s time to call a wrap to another year. The Central Valley Field Scout will take a holiday break and return after the New Year. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 9, 2013

There Are 4.8 billion Reasons Why Almond Growers Should Spend Time in Firebaugh

Everyone’s familiar with the phrase “time is money.”

In ag country, time is a precious commodity with farmers who would rather spend time outdoors than sit indoors at a meeting.

Sometimes, though, attending a meeting is worth the investment in time. It can make a lot of dollars and cents at harvest time – like $4.8 billion if you’re in the almond industry.

Well this week San Joaquin Valley almond growers will have that opportunity to spend a couple hours indoors at a field day learning valuable tips and information from some of the state’s almond experts. Whether you’re a long-time almond grower or a newbie, you’re sure to pick up some valuable nuggets of information about pest and disease management in the orchard.

Here’s what one grower said after attending one of these field days:  “These meetings are really needed to help us learn to farm almonds better.”

What’s the catch? Growers just need to give up part of their morning. Better yet, it doesn’t cost a cent to attend this field day, which is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday at the Firebaugh Community Center, 1655 13th Street in Firebaugh.  Learn more about the field day at

So what’s the agenda?

Farm advisor David Doll, left, talks at an almond field day.
For starters, you’ll get a valuable dose of information from the Almond Doctor, also known as David Doll of Merced County UC Cooperative Extension. David is a highly regarded pomology farm advisor specializing in almonds. He brings his expertise to cover practices for pest and disease management during the dormant season. Then there is UC Integrated Pest Management advisor Kris Tollerup, who will talk about spider mite management and treatment decisions for the pest.

Drip irrigation for almonds will be covered.
Like we discussed last week, water remains a very top-of-mind issue with farmers. Everyone is worrying about some forecasters predicting another dry winter. We all know skimpy water supplies could affect almond quality and yields and the future vitality of the orchard itself.

 For the first time, the field day will feature a representative from California Eurodrip USA who will discuss irrigation management.

 You can’t beat free advice from farm experts. It should be time well spent to ensure continued success in producing California’s top export crop.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Dry Year Will Certainly Change the Valley’s Farmscape

Look, in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s rain…
Well, not yet.
Rain gauges aren't filling up so far.
While weather forecasters are forecasting a slight chance of rain around our region and snow in the Sierra Nevada, it looks like this month will start off on the relatively dry side. December to February is when historically California receives about 50 percent of its annual precipitation.
Meanwhile, the outlook for 2014 doesn’t look promising as well.
Last Wednesday, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) released the results of a computer model forecast, reporting the “Winter Outlook for Water Year 2014 Sees Mostly Dry Conditions for California.”  Forecasters say 2014 “brings the possibility of a third dry year.”
That’s not encouraging news for farmers.
DWR Director Mark Cowin
Indeed, DWR two weeks ago announced an initial 5 percent of requested water allocations sought by State Water Project contractors for 2014.
 “We hope things improve with this winter’s storms, but there is no guarantee that 2014 won't be our third consecutive dry year,” said Mark Cowin, Water Resources director. The “allocation is a stark reminder that California's fickle weather demands that we make year-round conservation a way of life.”
On the plus side, it’s still early and there’s plenty of time for the wet stuff to come down.
For Valley farmers, water availability took center stage as soon as they wrapped up the fall harvest. This issue is certainly going to have an influence on the farm landscape next year.
Another dry year will impact alfalfa acreage.
You only have to read the online newsletter AgFax West’s post-harvest survey of Central Valley farmers and pest control advisors to get the picture about what changes they expect for 2014. Here are a few responses received by AgFax:
“Availability of water will limit planted acres (in cotton),” a PCA working in Merced and Madera counties. On alfalfa, the PCA said “possible fewer acres due to reduced water supplies.”
On the westside of Fresno County, this alfalfa grower said “When looking at significantly reduced water supply, we will take four fields out and only irrigate the first and second cuttings on the remaining fields. There are higher returns on other crops.”
One alfalfa grower said: “If this winter is dry, my plan would be to get about three cuttings off the alfalfa and walk away for the season from the older fields to save water for tomatoes, cotton and permanent crops.”
Another grower added this on cotton: “Only hope for significant acreage is snow pack and lots of winter rain or there will be even less cotton than this year – will adjust based on yearly conditions!”
Let’s hope those fancy, high-tech weather models are wrong.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giving Thanks to an Uneventful Year for Valley Cotton, Alfalfa

 Valley cotton and alfalfa growers can sit down to turkey dinner on Thursday and be thankful that another season is under their belt.

Water availability remains a major issue for Valley farmers.
They will thankful that the year – while not spectacular – was rather uneventful. While water remained a major issue (and will continue to be entering 2014 unless we experience a very wet year), there were no major pest or disease problems that threatened their crops, notes cotton field scout Carlos Silva. For the most part, lygus and aphids were under control. Some growers grappled with whitefly infestations and some dealt with Race 4 Fusarium invading parts of their fields.

Cotton fields are being plowed down.
The last chore for the season has been plowing down the harvested cotton fields to meet cotton plowdown rules aimed at preventing pink bollworm infestation. Some growers have already prepared their rows for next season. How much cotton we’ll see planted next year depends on how much water will be available in 2014. We’ll know more as the winter progresses. At least the rain that buffeted the Valley – a half inch around these parts – and Northern California last week is an encouraging sign.

Low water allocations, especially in the west side of the Valley, played a role in the drop in cotton acreage this year. Last Tuesday’s report by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in Sacramento estimated the 2013 acala/upland cotton production at 310,000 480-pound bales, down 39 percent from last year. Nationally, upland production is predicted to be down 25 percent. California pima production is forecast at 600,000 bales, down 20 percent. The bulk of U.S. pima fiber is grown in California.

Perhaps, growers will work off some of their Thanksgiving meal by doing a little rain dance.

Meanwhile, Carlos points out alfalfa producers finished their final cut of the season as temperatures started dropping. Alfalfa production, too, suffered a down year, the USDA says. Acreage is forecast to drop 5.3 percent to 90,000 acres in 2013 while yield is predicted to dip 3.9 percent to 630,000 tons.

The number of cotton bales produced expected to drop.
Alfalfa growers completed their final cutting for 2013.
Early in the season, many growers had to deal with blue alfalfa aphids, which stunted growth during the spring. Other pests, though, remained fairly in check throughout the season, Carlos says.

 Overall, it was a pretty average year for cotton and alfalfa growers. No one seems to be complaining.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Winter Orchard Maintenance, Water Supplies Top of Mind for SJ Valley Almond Growers

The almond harvest has been over for a while, but you wouldn’t know it given the flurry of activity in the orchards.

Farm workers replace damaged drip lines in an orchard.
There are weeds to take care of. There are drip lines to repair. There are pre-emergent sprays to apply. There are mummy nuts to knock off the trees…and more.

Almond field scout Jenna Horine calls it winterizing – a time to prepare the orchards for the winter. Growers want to take care of these late-fall chores before wet weather arrives. Check out UC IPM’s year-round plan for almonds for more information. UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors are available to answers about almond production and practices. In Merced County, contact David Doll at (209) 385-703 and in Fresno and Madera counties, contact Gureet Barr at (559) 241-7526.

Before we call 2013 a wrap, though, let’s take a look back at the season. Jenna, who finally finished cracking all those nuts collected orchards around the valley this summer, estimates finding less pest damage this year than in 2012. That’s a good sign that growers did a good job in their pest management practices.

Winter chores include tilling the rows between trees.
Her results are being compiled and the information will be passed along to growers that participated in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, a program that helps growers implement best management practices and provides field day educational programs featuring leading almond experts in the Central Valley.

Meanwhile, many growers are telling Jenna that 2013 turned out to be a pretty good, yet relatively average year. That comes amid a dry winter, reduced water allocations and a late bloom. Don’t forget the high winds in April that toppled trees and knocked limbs and nuts off the trees.

Growers are concerned about future water availability.
Overall, the USDA predicted this year’s almond production to weigh in at 1.85 billion pounds, about a 2 percent drop from 2012. The forecast is based on 810,000 acres of nut-bearing trees.

Like other farmers, almond growers also are worried about water after facing a dry winter and reduced water allocations in 2013. During the summer, the USDA found the nut set per tree was down 5 percent from 2012 while kernel weight – 1.36 grams – was the lowest in four decades.

That may explain the heavy springtime nut drop and reduced yield experienced in the Butte and Padre varieties grown by one local grower.

Lack of water can affect almond kernels.
University of California researchers have conducted a number of studies about water deficits and the impact on almonds and trees, especially during drought years. Here’s what UC experts say:Generally, nut size is reduced in the first season of significant water stress. Because water stress also reduces vegetative growth and potentially decreases productivity per unit canopy volume, nut load can be reduced in subsequent years.”

 Jenna plans to bring up the issue during an Almond Field Day being planned for December. Stay tuned.