Monday, April 29, 2013

Eagerly Waiting for Cotton to Emerge from the Ground

These are both eager and anxious times for cotton growers.

Cotton seedlings emerge from ground.
First, they are eager to see how their newly planted cotton emerges from the fertile Valley ground. Then they get anxious as they wait for the cotyledons to unfold just above the soil and how the young plant population is doing – or stand establishment.

Taking measurements to assess stand establishment.
At this point of the early season, farmers are starting to assess how well the stand is established in the field to determine how well the crop is growing. The University of California Integrated Pest Management says this: “By comparing the plant population per foot with the seedling rate per foot, you can determine if the stand is optimal, weak or excessive.”

The optimal stands have 30,000 to 60,000 plants per acre. A weak stand falls below that range and requires growers to look for signs of seedling diseases or insects. If there are lots of rows without plants, then growers must consider replanting.

A corn habitat is planted next to a cotton field.
On the flip side, excessive growth may require thinning the crop. A heavy plant population could make the crop vulnerable to insects and diseases. Check out UC IPM online for more information about counting the plant population and assessing stand establishment.

Cotton field scout Carlos Silva and Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM checked some Valley fields last week and found stand establishment to be optimal. With the late-spring hot weather, we can expect the seedlings to start taking off. The first true leaf is around the corner. Remember first true leaf is considered a significant development milestone leading to a successful cotton season.

In the meantime, Carlos reports the natural habitat of corn, buck wheat and yellow mustard planted around some of the local cotton fields are doing well. That should be good for helping keep the bad bugs out of the cotton.

The local alfalfa fields are liking the weather, too. Some growers are getting close to doing the second cutting soon. On the pest front, growers need to remain vigilant for the blue alfalfa aphids. We don’t want them to get out of hand.

Jenna Horine has been busy scouting the almond orchards for pests. Counts in peach twig borer traps have been a little high. She’s huddling with UC IPM Emeritus Walt Bentley to get an assessment on PTB. Overall, the almond crop is progressing well.

Trees are loaded with lots of almonds this season.
Could we be poised for another record-breaking year? Growers could get a jump on ensuring bumper crop on Thursday when the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project conducts its first Almond Field Day of the year this Thursday morning. Here are the details:

Almond Pest and Crop Management Field Day – Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the LPGL Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue, Fresno.  The speakers are: Entomologist Walt Bentley on “In Season Monitoring Pest Pressure and Preserving Beneficial Populations” and Almond Doctor David Doll of UCCE Merced County on “Almond Disease and Nutrient Management for the Spring and Early Summer.” There are 2 hours of continuing education credits available. Don’t miss out on getting expert advice. Feel free to bring any damaged leaves or shoots for identification by the experts. See you there.

 If you want to learn more about alfalfa, Dr. Goodell and UC Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey will lead an Alfalfa Field Day discussion about this season’s outbreak of blue alfalfa aphids in the San Joaquin Valley and other parts of the state. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday at the Dale Hale Community Center,  O’Banion Park (southeast corner of Center and Lorrain Streets) in Dos Palos. The meeting will look at dealing with the pest today and in the future and how pest control advisors can help. It should be informative. Lunch is included, so come have some lunch and learn more about blue alfalfa aphids.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Summer-like Weather a Mixed Bag for Central Valley Farmers

 It’s not your imagination. It’s been a hotter than usual around the Valley. You can throw in windy, as well.

Checking Weather Service statistics, we discovered these 80-degree days (and 90 degrees today) are far from normal. Usually, we get temperatures in the 70s.

For farmers, this warm spring is a mixed blessing. We are seeing almond growth take off. Our almond field scout Jenna Horine has seen some nuts doubling in size in the past week.

Newly planted cotton fields are seeing young plants emerge quickly from the ground. This hot weather should accelerate growth and stand development. Alfalfa re-growth could take off, too.

Here’s the flip side. The high temperatures could produce ideal breeding conditions for pest populations to explode. Jenna worries that mite problems could flare up in almond orchards.

A fallen tree in the orchard interior.
Strong winds uprooted almond trees in local orchards.
With strong winds – reaching up to 37 mph  - continuing last week, we saw more spare nuts being batted around and dropping to the ground. Trees also fell to the wind. Jenna says the windy weather could have impacted the pest traps placed around in the orchards. Bugs could have hunkered down and become less active, making it difficult to get a gauge on pest counts.

One grower contacted Jenna about some of his almonds shriveling up and then falling off the trees.  It’s normal to see some nuts fail to develop and eventually drop. Despite the winds the past two weeks, there’s nothing to be alarmed about right now, according to UC IPM Emeritus Walt Bentley. Trees have been loaded with almonds.

On the alfalfa front, some growers are reporting a high level of blue alfalfa aphids in some fields. These pests inject a toxin that hampers growth, reduce yield and even threatens to kill the plant. Learn more about the blue alfalfa aphid from the UC IPM website.

Some fields are finding a high number of blue alfalfa aphids.
- Photo by Kansas State University
A grower plants cotton seeds in his field. Cotton planting is wrapping  up. 
Field scout Carlos Silva has seen beneficial insects such as the lady bugs and parasitic wasps doing their work on aphids.  You see plenty of dead aphids on the ground or alfalfa stems.

This week, we’ll be checking out cotton fields for stand establishment. So far, everything looks good.

Could this unseasonable warm weather translate into an early season?  It’s too early to predict right now. The season is still young. And Mother Nature is always fickle.  Too often, we’ve seen hot weather turn cool and rainy seemingly overnight. Remember there’s still 1 ½ months of spring left.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Heads Up: Nuts Rain Down Amid Windy Valley Weather

Winds caused almonds to drop to the ground.

 There was a whole lot of shakin’ going on in Valley last week.

If you didn’t look at the calendar you’d bet it was summertime because of all those nuts blanketing the ground. Who needs a tree shaker when you have Mother Nature bellowing out wind gusts that topped out at 39 miles an hour in some parts around here.

Take a look at the photo (above) taken by our almond field scout Jenna Horine. You can see almonds, almonds and more almonds everywhere between the rows of trees. Nut-laden branches, wiped by the wind, were banging into each other and causing nuts to fall to the ground. The National Weather Service wind gusts reached 32 mph on Sunday, April 7 and 39 mph the following day.

Older trees and those with tall canopies seemed to experience the most nut drop, Jenna reports.

While the sight of all these nuts on the ground might be cause of alarm, growers tell us they aren’t too worried. Trees always lose a percentage of nuts during the season. Last week’s drop wasn’t considered significant – i.e. – not enough to cut into yields and future revenue.

Indeed, it’s normal for nuts that stop growing to drop before reaching full size in April and May, according to the University of California Almond Production Manual. This drop is “considered a natural thinning process due to competition from many nuts.” Let’s hope the winds don’t do a lot more thinning in the future.

A small percentage of growers still do flood irrigation.
Meanwhile, some farmers are doing flood irrigation to get water deep into the ground.  Yes, there are still some growers flooding their orchards. Most almond growers, however, have converted to micro-sprinklers or drip irrigation. Recent surveys indicate 80 percent of Central Valley almond growers used drip because of its efficiency – watering and fertilizer applications are more precise.
A peach twig borer trap nabs lots of pests.

While the wind made field scouting tough last week, we can say the mites and peach twig borer appear under control in almonds. Some PTB counts were a little high in some orchards, but it isn’t enough to be worrisome.

Around the cotton fields, plantings are in full swing. After this week, most growers should have finished planting this year’s crop. Soon, we’ll be starting the countdown to harvest.

Alfalfa growers are wrapping up their first cutting of the season. The pest counts are low right now. That’s a good sign.

Alfalfa growers are wrapping up the first cut of the season.
Well, it’s safe to say things are starting to heat up for farmers – and Mother Nature, too. Yes, forecasters predict we’ll see our first 90-dgree temperatures of the year by early next week. Pack
the sunscreen, hat and bottles of water.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Red Mites: Might They Be New Arrivals or Simply Visitors?

 Farmers often learn to expect the unexpected.

While scouting a local San Joaquin Valley almond orchard the other day, something unexpected showed up among the greening trees: European red mites. We did a double-take and checked in with our almond expert, Walt Bentley, a UC IPM emeritus and almond expect.

What emerged is a mystery, something that could use the services of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. European red mites are typically found further north in the Sacramento Valley. They’re not a common sight in our San Joaquin Valley.

 European red mite is usually seen in the Sacramento Valley.
- UC IPM photo by Jack Kelly Clark
Here’s what UC IPM says about these bugs: “European red mites cause leaf stippling. Prolonged feeding causes leaves to pale and appear bronzed and burned at the tips and margin. Almond trees that are that are not stressed for water or by any other factor can tolerate high infestation levels for extended periods without experiencing leaf drop. If the trees are stressed, however, these levels can cause defoliation. European red mites do not commonly reach damaging levels in almonds.” You can learn more about European red mites at UC IPM online.

Yes, there’s nothing to be alarmed right now. In fact, many growers included a miticide with their dormant season sprays. Overall, there aren’t any major issues with mites. The trees are looking good. The trees have quickly gone from brilliant white and pink blossoms to sparkling green leaves.

Bee boxes like these could have transported red mites here.
Are we going to find more red mites elsewhere? Can we call them simply tourists visiting one of our almond orchards?  One guess is the pests hitched a ride with the bee boxes and landed here as the bees arrive to ply their pollination trade here. We’ll have to do a little more sleuthing. Stay tuned.

From the orchards to the fields:
In alfalfa, some growers have finished the first cutting of the season. The recent rain may dampen the quality of this harvest. On the pest front, we found some blue alfalfa aphids in our sweep net – nothing to be alarmed about at the moment. Even so, it’s important to keep an eye for these bugs.

Some growers have finished the first cutting of alfalfa.
The cut alfalfa being picked up and then loaded into a truck. 

Here is a local field after the first cutting.

A cotton field being worked before planting.

In cotton, the degree day calculations are in and signal a green light for the start of planting. One eager grower already planted his pima cotton. We helped another grower plant a natural habitat of corn, mustard and buck wheat to provide a future home for good and harmful bugs. Yes, the clock is definitely set to ring in the start of the 2013 cotton season.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How Dry We Are: That’s Worrisome for Local Farmers

We all know it has been dry since New Year’s Day.

So it wasn’t surprising to hear that 1 ½ weeks ago the federal Bureau of Reclamation cut the H2o allocation for agricultural water suppliers in our region to 20 percent, down from 25 percent projected in February.
State Water surveyors  found  a melting Sierra snowpack.
- Department of Water Resources photo
 And it wasn’t surprising to hear last Thursday that the State Water Resources offered similar gloomy news: Its allocation for the State Water Project is being cut from 40 to 35 percent to water agencies, including those that supply water to nearly 1 million acres of irrigated farm land. Surveyors last week measured the Sierra snowpack and reported it was just 52 percent of normal. At the same time, they reported the spring melt is well underway.

Both cite the skimpy rainfall this year and winter pumping restrictions to protect the Delta smelt and salmon for the decreased water allocation estimates.

As baseball legend Yogi Berra says, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Yes, farmers have been here before.

You don’t need to be a meteorologist and snow surveyor with fancy degrees to figure it out. It was just spring-like this winter. In fact, the Valley recorded only about 2 inches of rain for all of January, February and March, according the National Weather Service. That’s a third of normal.
Federal water folks say March was “tracking to be the driest on record.” 
So what does this mean?

A dry March had some Central Valley  growers  turning
 on the irrigation sprinklers in their  almond orchards.
The Westlands Water District, which serves a lot of farms in our area, says the low allocation could prove economically devastating to local communities and cost them more than $1 billion in economic activity.

“The water supply reductions facing farmers will devastate the local communities,” says Thomas Birmingham, Westlands general manager.

For now, no one is ready to mention the dreaded “D” word, as in drought.

Westlands and other water districts have about 400,000 acre feet of water stored in San Luis Reservoir, which holds water for south-of-the-delta water projects. “Reservoir storage will meet much of the state’s water demand this year,” government water officials say. But they warn that “successively dry years would create drought conditions in some areas.”

Farmers could see this coming and planned accordingly for this year’s growing season. In cotton, for example, some growers are opting to plant other crops or cut back on their plantings. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a drop in cotton acreage this season, which would reverse three years of increased plantings since end of the prolonged California drought in 2009.

Of course, the water outlook could change if we get plenty of April showers. We certainly could use more rain like Sunday, when we closed out March with nearly a third of inch of rain and almost doubled the total recorded the previous 30 days. Weather watchers are predicting another storm Thursday, but clear skies the rest of the week. We’ll see how everything plays out for almond and alfalfa crops as well as the cotton plantings.

Another storm may arrive later this week.
Because of the recent rain, alfalfa growers could hold off on their first cutting of the season. Meanwhile, on the pest front, our sweep nets are snagging aphids in some alfalfa fields but not enough to worry about at the moment. Growers, though, should continue to keep an eye out for them. Alfalfa weevils are under control right now.

Cotton growers are still tracking the degree days to determine the best time to plant. But growers tell us they’re in no rush. They don’t want to plant too early and risk late spring rains and damage to the seedlings. It’s no time to get over eager.

In the almond orchards, we’re still seeing some white bloom, but petal fall is definitely taking place. Westside orchards are seeing lots of green leaves. That’s not surprising. We usually see these orchards develop faster than other areas in the San Joaquin Valley. Bees are definitely active everywhere. One grower had the sprinklers going in his orchard thanks to the dry weather.

Well, it’s only April 1. There is still of time to do a little rain dance and get the clouds to shower us with more rainfall.