Monday, March 25, 2013

Central Valley Springs Ahead with Excitement for a New Growing Season

 Ah yes, spring has finally arrived.

In farm country, spring means a fresh beginning as growers plant the seeds for a new crop for the coming season. The late Hollywood actress Helen Hayes who once said: “All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.”

New field scout Carlos Silva.
Growers, too, feel a great sense of excitement and anticipation. Our spirits, too, are certainly high as the Central Valley Farm Scout prepares to for another busy season in the almond orchards and cotton and alfalfa fields stretching across the expansive San Joaquin Valley.

This season, we welcome our new field scout, Carlos Silva, who will give us a fields-eye view of what’s happening in the cotton and alfalfa fields. Dos Palos native Jenna Horine will continue to give real-time accounts from the almond orchards. Together, Jenna and Carlos will collaborate on the blog.

Giving alfalfa some water to grow.
Alfalfa crop is looking good right now.
We’re happy to note that Carlos is another local product. Raised in Firebaugh, he is a second generation farmer with a lot of knowledge in agriculture. He has worked as a research assistant at Lucero Farms and an ID tagger at the Hammonds Ranch. Carlos earned his bachelor’s degree in technical management from Devry University in Fresno. He’s good at crunching numbers and all those new-fangled high-tech gadgets.

“I have to say that the most enjoyable part of my tasks is actually finding out which kind of pests and beneficial insects are in my net. The amount of insects vary greatly from field to field so there is always something different and something else to learn,” says Carlos. “Working with growers is also great as I know some of my information can help them make more informed decisions about pest management.”

Scooping up alfalfa weevil larvae.
Already, Carlos has been scouting the local alfalfa fields, checking for those pesky weevils. The good news is the bugs have been under control with some growers applying treatments in recent weeks. Here’s the UC IPM online link to learn more about alfalfa weevils and the damage they can do before the first cutting. The site lists gives you treatment guidelines and a list of materials. Remember to consider the impact on the environment when selecting pesticides. That message never gets too old. We certainly want to protect the good bugs, especially honeybees and natural enemies to alfalfa pests.
From our photos and field visits, the alfalfa crop looks to be doing well. Before you know it growers will be making their first cutting this season.

Meanwhile, cotton growers are gearing up for the season. They have been pre-irrigating their fields to prepare for spring planting. They also are tracking degree days to determine the ideal time to plant. Our friend, Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM, put together a blog post on timing cotton planting with degree day forecasts.  Lots of good info there.

Vallley growers are pre-irrigating their cotton fields to prepare for planting in the coming weeks.

Another good resource is UC IPM online, which will publish a daily through May 6. Keep this link handy:

Stay with us throughout the season. Let us know how we’re doing. It’s great to hear from everyone. If you see Jenna or Carlos scouting, be sure to give a wave and say howdy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Almond Bloom: A Kodak Moment Across the Valley

Almond blossoms add color to the Valley.

 This is one of our favorite times of the year. As you travel across the San Joaquin Valley, the landscape is ablaze in bright whites and pinks with tens of thousands of acres of almond orchards are in bloom.

The driest January and February on record in California offered that perfect Kodak moment: Breath-taking views of almond blossoms shimmering in the winter breeze and flickering in the bright morning and afternoon sunlight.

Things are really buzzing around bee boxes.

Rain has been a rare sight so far this year.
Warm temperatures, including a near-record high of 81 on March 2, have really pushed bloom of early almond varieties. In fact, some orchards start to bloom as early as mid-February. Now the bees are abuzz in the orchards as we see petal fall in some areas with greening emerging in the early varieties.

Although we recorded .21 inches of rain last Thursday, growers shouldn’t expect much wet stuff the rest of the month, weather forecasters predict. In fact, almond growers were worried about the dry weather in February and lack of significant rainfall on the horizon that they decided to do some wintertime irrigation, according to the USDA National Agricultural Services.

Petal fall and greening are starting in early varieties.
Because of this good weather, our almond expert, Walt Bentley, who holds the fancy title of UC IPM emeritus, advises growers to follow a less intensive disease management strategy. Of course, that would change if Mother Nature rains down on us and growers need to look out for rot and other diseases.

Walt also says bloom time is a good time to head into the orchard and check the lower interior of the leaves where there were mite problems last season. This gives you a good idea if mites are moving in early.

Indeed Jenna is already canvassing almond orchards in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project and doing some early scouting for mites. She’s also collecting traps from last year. It’s still winter, but things are certainly buzzing in farm country.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Dry Weather Translates to Disappointing Water Allocation for the Valley's Growers

 As we wrapped up February, the state’s water watchers officially declared the past two months as the driest in California history.
State surveyors found the Sierra snowpack has gone down.
                               - Department of Water Resources photo
It was last Thursday when state Water Resources surveyors trekked into the Sierra snow country and measured the winter snowpack at 29 inches – down from 4 feet just a month earlier. The snowpack is 70 percent of average for this time of year.

At the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation delivered its much-anticipated initial water supply allocation for Central Valley Project agricultural contractors for 2013. As we expected, the south-of-the-Delta water allocation came in at a disappointing 25 percent. Time to start doing a rain dance.

So here’s what the Bureau had to say: “The 2013 water year is unfolding in a unique way. Reclamation began water year  2013 (October 1, 2012, to September 30, 2013) with 6.9 million acre-feet of carryover storage in six key Central Valley Project reservoirs, which is 98 percent of the 15-year average for October 1.

Storms in late November and December resulted in above-average snowpack conditions in Northern California and contributed to above-average storage in Shasta and Folsom Reservoirs; however, the San Joaquin River watershed did not fare as well. This mixed start to the water year was then followed by one of the driest combined Januarys and Februarys on record, leading to what has become a challenging water year.

In addition, water supplies from the state and federal pumps in the south Delta have been reduced significantly this year to protect delta smelt, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
 “While we continue to hope for additional precipitation during the remainder of the rainy season, we are also continuing to work with our federal, state and local partners to improve this year’s supply and to find a comprehensive, long-term solution that will achieve the dual goals of a reliable water supply for California and a healthy Bay Delta ecosystem that supports the state’s economy,” stated Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murrillo.

On another water front, the deadline is nearing for irrigated cropland farmers in Fresno County to apply for some of the $1 million in available grant funds aimed at improving water quality in the region. The grants are offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in conjunction with the Kings River Conservation District. The goal is for farmers to address water quality on cropland by reducing pesticides and other materials that go into the waterways and groundwater. Part of the idea is to install more efficient irrigation systems or adopt irrigation water management practices.
You need to get your applications in by the end of the day on Friday, March 15. For more information, visit the NRCS Fresno Service Center at 4625 W. Jennifer Ave., Suite 125, Fresno, or call (559) 276-7494. It’s a good opportunity to get some money to try out some innovative irrigation techniques.