Monday, July 8, 2013

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Under Some Cool Shade and Drink Lots of Water

 Hot dogs and hamburgers weren’t the only things sizzling across the San Joaquin Valley over the holiday weekend.

A string of suffocating triple-digit temperatures beat down on the Valley. In fact, the Fresno area recorded its highest low temperature ever at a “cool” 80 degrees on the Fourth of July morning. In some parts of the region, highs topped 110 degrees, report field scouts Jenna Horine and Carlos Silva.
While 100-degree weather is common here – we average 36 days of triple-digit temperatures every year – this heat still takes your breath away, especially if you’re working outdoors. Weather forecasters called this heat wave extreme even by our standards. Forecasters say the string of consecutive 100-degree-plus days could finally be broken Satursday with the temperature dipping below triple digits (albeit 99 degrees) for the first time in over two weeks.

It was extreme enough to worry about the safety of field workers. Carlos tells us the farm where his father works as a foreman sent its workers went home early during the heat wave, calling it a day by 2 p.m.
Indeed, Carlos heads out to scout the cotton and alfalfa fields by 6 a.m., packing lots of water in an ice chest and wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt and floppy hat. He covers up to protect himself for the scorching sun. Jenna, too, sets out at 6 a.m. so she can wrap up her scouting in the almond orchards by 1 p.m. 

Yes, heat illness is a serious matter for farmers and ag workers. Every spring, Cal-OSHA works with farm community to sponsor training sessions about preparing for the hot summer months. State law entitles outdoor workers to have cool, fresh water as well as a shade area for hourly breaks.

The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association offers a Heat Illness Prevention Program Tool Kit for farm supervisors to carry in their pickups. For more information, contact the association office at (559) 455-9272.

Another resource is heat illness compliance aids prepared the Ventura County Agricultural Association. You can access them online here

Meanwhile, this heat can be a double-edge sword for crops.

Cotton plants are growing well under the hot weather while pests are in check at the moment. The plants are at 15 to 18 main stem nodes with up to 10 fruiting branches. We’ll start looking at square retention rates soon. However, some growers are concerned the extreme heat could have an impact on yield. We will have to wait to see how that plays out as the season progresses.

Spider mites found on  a leaf.
The extreme heat at the onset of hull split presents some challenges for growers. In its latest monthly crop round-up for the region, Blue Diamond Almonds reported:  Growers are monitoring soil moisture levels closely as they work to withhold irrigation to one-half of consumptive use for a two-week period in an effort to reduce the incidence of fungal hull rot infections, while not imposing undue stress on the trees. This delicate balance is made much more difficult by the heat wave currently enveloping the entire Central Valley.”

“Everybody is trying to keep up with the water because of the heat,” Jenna reports. Water-stressed orchards can trigger an explosion of spider mites. These pests will suck the cell content from leaves and ultimately can cause leaves to drop. A number of growers have been treating for mites. Some are applying orange oil, considered by UC IPM as one of the “organically acceptable ways of managing spider mites.” Check out UC IPM online for more about spider mites.
A tractor sprays for pests in a Valley almond orchard.

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