Monday, February 17, 2014

Field Day, Presidential Visit: A Big Week for Little ’Ol Firebaugh

 There was a lot of buzz around Firebaugh this past week.

First, more than 30 farmers from across the valley traveled last Tuesday to the small town’s community center to hear University of California farm advisors and IPM experts talk about drought management in alfalfa, almonds and cotton.

The common chatter among growers at the field day was 2014 could shape up as a year of economic survival. Field scout Carlos Silva says farmers are telling him “there’s not much they can do (without water). They’re have to leave fields fallow.”

President Obama tours Joe del Bosque's farm. (Reuters photo) 
Almond and other tree crop growers are talking about the need to protect their investment and focus on keeping their trees alive while sacrificing yield and even a season’s crop.

 Of course, the local buzz grew louder just before the start of the President’s Day weekend when a real president visited the Central Valley.

On a clear almost balmy winter Friday afternoon, President Obama took a field trip – to of all places – Firebaugh. The president met with growers at the San Luis Water District and later joined Gov. Jerry Brown to tour a fallow field owned by Joe del Bosque, an active grower in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project.
“What happens here matters to every working American right down to the food that you put on your table,” Obama said, with Joe and his wife, Maria Gloria, Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, standing next to the president. The president then announced $160 million in federal aid and ordered federal government facilities to cut back in water use.
Gov Brown, Vilsack, Maria Gloria and Joe del Bosque. (Getty Images photo)
The visit raised awareness about the critical water issue in California farm country. That was last week. This week, it’s back to grappling with knotty drought-related issues.
For example, alfalfa growers, including Joe del Bosque, are facing a serious problem with early season aphids. SJSFP’s Carlos Silva continues to scout alfalfa fields and reporting his findings to growers.
Aphids are becoming an early season problem in alfalfa.
UC IPM’s Dr. Pete Goodell thinks possible causes are the unseasonably warm winter and lack of rain for the aphid outbreak. While Carlos has found beneficial insects such as ladybugs in the alfalfa fields, it doesn’t appear to be enough of them to take care of the aphid problem alone. That translates into early season treatment.
If these pests persist, we could see stunted plant growth and reduced yields this year. The result could cause an enormous economic ripple effect for the state’s dairy and other livestock producers and, in the end, consumers. Alfalfa, described as the “engine of human food production,” provides high energy and protein feed for dairy cows. California is the nation’s largest dairy producer. Higher hay prices eventually translates into higher milk, cheese and yogurt prices at the supermarket check-out. Ouch.
The aphid problem could result in lower alfalfa yields.
Could this dry weather be connected to a changing climate?  President Obama indicated so during his farm tour: “One thing is undeniable. Rising temperatures influence drought.”
Let’s hope cooler temperatures and lots of rain are on the horizon.

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