Monday, April 28, 2014

How Many Harvests? That’s the Million Dollar Question for Valley Alfalfa Growers

One down and “TBD” to go.

That what alfalfa growers tell us when asked how many more harvests they have left this season after completing the first cutting of the year. Yes it’s “To Be Determined.”

Alfalfa growers have wrapped up their first harvest.
The drought is causing a lot of uncertainty for growers as they hear politicians, farm and environmental groups and economic folks debate the water issue. For now, we know one thing for certain: There will be at least one more harvest next month.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports a number of growers have been irrigating their alfalfa fields. Others are expected to follow suit after their freshly cut alfalfa finishes drying in the field and is baled and hauled away.
Cotton seedlings are starting to emerge in some fields.

That’s a good sign. Most growers are counting on at least two harvests (some even more) during this drought year before turning off the spigot. Because of tight supplies or high costs, farmers are being forced to make tough economic decisions in deciding how to allocate their water resources.
One bit of good news for alfalfa: Carlos reports pest pressure has been low.

In the cotton fields, the seedlings are emerging from the ground.  To see the cotyledons unfurl is great to see. It’s a first tangible sign that California cotton hasn’t vanished because of the drought.
We all expect cotton acreage to drop this season, but by how much remains to be seen. We’ll keep everyone posted on this year’s acreage forecasts as well as updated on the progress of the crop through the fall harvest.

Excess nuts are dropping early this season.
Meanwhile, field scout Jenna Horine also reported no significant pest pressures in almonds this past week. She continues to see ant problems and urges growers to start taking steps to control them before the summer harvest. 

Jenna says trees are starting to shed excess nuts. Remember, trees can hold only so much fruit. Experts call it “June drop”, which usually occurs in May. This year, the almond season is some two to three weeks ahead of schedule because of the mild winter. Perhaps we should rename this natural thinning process “April drop.”


Monday, April 21, 2014

After a Mild Winter, Pests Become Taxing Issue with Valley Almond Growers

 It wasn’t even April 15 and almonds growers were already being taxed.

Not by Uncle Sam. Rather by pests. And the bugs are returning to the orchards sooner rather than later, reports our almond field scout Jenna Horine.

Stink bugs are showing up early.
“Some trees have lots of stink bugs falling out of them,” Jenna says. “Usually I don’t see stink bugs before April 15.”

California’s mild, dry winter can take much of the blame. Normally, the cold winter months will put a damper on pests through the early spring. Compounding the problem has been the warm weather, including some days with unseasonably high 90-degree temperatures.
Ants swarm around a NOW trap.
As Jenna visits orchards throughout the San Joaquin Valley, she is discovering an uptick in almond damaging pests, including stink bugs, mites, peach twig borer and navel orangeworm (NOW). Stink bugs, for example, usually don’t show up in orchards until May during normal years. 

Even ants, which are usually worrisome at the outset of summer, are becoming real pests this spring. Ant mounds seem to be popping up everywhere, Jenna reports says, and the pests are marching up tree trunks and making their way onto limbs. In one instance, she found ants swarming around a NOW trap.

Ant mounds are surfacing in the orchards.
It’s a good bet that no one is surprised by Jenna’s report. With the state’s drought reaching emergency status this winter, almond experts were preparing growers for a challenging year with pests and disease issues to go along with water availability.

A peach twig borer trap.
Now, it seems these predictions are starting to come true to the chagrin of growers. These developments have prompted some growers to start treatments now.

Looking ahead this season, Jenna anticipates many orchards are likely to see a replay of last year’s pest issues. Simply put, it means growers can generally expect the same kind of pest pressures this year as in 2014.

As New York Yankees baseball hall of famer Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

San Joaquin Valley Cotton Season Underway Despite Drought Worries in 2014

Drought or no drought, San Joaquin Valley growers are starting to plant the seeds for another cotton season.

Amid unseasonably warm spring weather – temperatures hit the 90s last week – more growers expect to take the plunge this week and plant their cotton fields, reports field scout Carlos Silva. A few growers, though, remain on the fence and it’s uncertain if they will go ahead with cotton in 2014 because of tight water supplies.

Growers are starting to seed their cotton fields in the Valley.
Some growers tell Carlos that they anticipate about 40 percent of the normal water supplies this year – for all crops, including cotton. Those in the giant Westlands Water District are more inclined to skip cotton this season. Westlands receives federal water and earlier this year the Bureau of Reclamation indicated there won’t be any allocation to water agencies in 2014.

Still, it’s safe to say California will be producing cotton this dry year. Of course, we all anticipate cotton acreage to be down substantially with some experts predicting plantings will be the lowest since the 1920s. A number of growers are planting smaller fields, often in the 30- to 50-acre range. 

“Growers are facing a lot of tough decisions,” Carlos says.  They are leaving fields fallow and trimming costs, which includes the hard choice of laying off year-round workers. Many pledge to hire year-round workers back as soon as possible. Who knows when, or if, that will occur because of the economic uncertainly swirling around the Valley. 

What makes it difficult for farmers to hand out pink slips, Carlos points out, is they find it tough to find good, dependable workers.

Meanwhile, growers who are going forward with cotton are counting on favorable global prices for high-quality California fiber.  We can say with certainty 2014 will a very interesting year. Remember, it’s only 180 to 200 days until harvest.

Growers are starting to harvest alfalfa for the first time.

Weevil damage in alfalfa.
In alfalfa, Carlos says growers have started the first cutting, or harvest, of the season. They’ll let it dry on the field for about five days and then turn the crop to dry the other side. With water availability a big issue, some growers are anticipating only one or two more cuttings before calling it a season.

On the pest front, weevils and aphids are pretty much under control in alfalfa. Carlos is seeing some blue alfalfa aphids but the counts found in his sweep net aren’t worrisome at this time to trigger treatment.

Field Day Alert: Don’t forget this to attend Thursday’s “Monitoring Practices, Irrigation Tips, Pest and Disease Management” Almond Field Day from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Speakers are UC IPM emeritus Walt Bentley, David Doll of UCCE Merced, Gene Brandi of the American Beekeeping Federation, Geurreet Brar of UCCE Fresno and Matthew Danielczyk, restoration project manager for Audubon California. As always, the event is free and 2 hours of continuing education and 2.5 hours of CCA CEU credits will be available. More details are at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. The event promises to be full of helpful information, especially during a drought year.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Mother Nature Can Deliver Good & Bad News for Farmers

Around farm country you might call it as “Mother Nature’s Paradox”: What’s good for one grower may not be good for another.

It can crop up anytime of the year, especially during the Central Valley’s growing season: Hot temperatures may be good for cotton, but bad for lettuce. Rain may be good for alfalfa, but bad for almonds.

This past week is a good example.  Mother Nature dropped one-tenth to a half-inch of rain in various parts of the Valley – enough to turn orchards and fields muddy.

Last week's storms didn't lessen the drought fears.
Field crops welcomed the extra water during this drought year. But at the same time, the wet stuff – coupled by 60-degree temperatures – weren’t as welcomed by almond growers. Moreover, some long-range weather watchers are predicting periodic storms – a la the Midwest – into the summer months. Such talk makes nut growers a little nervous.

As a result, almond growers are looking into fungicide applications, says field scout Jenna Horine. Some may include it with their normal May sprays – something they normally wouldn’t do.
Here is an example of leaf rust. -- UC IPM photo
Unseasonable rains could trigger spring and summer diseases, including fungus, rust, scab and scale problems. (You don’t even want to think about rain during hull split this summer.)

For now, Jenna says the wet and cooler weather last week may have put a damper navel orangeworm concerns for the moment. She reports NOW eggs snared in traps were low compared to the worrisome counts found the previous week. Still, with the traps out only a couple weeks, it’s too early to determine any trends. Besides, the weather started heating up today and temperatures is predicted to top 90 degrees on Tuesday, which could change the pest picture again. Can you believe we could see a 30-degree temperature swing from April 1? Wow.

More growers are digging wells.
On the water front, Jenna offers this observation: More drilling rigs are popping up across the Valley as growers look toward wells as a short-term solution to tight water supplies. In fact, one grower who earlier this winter indicated the drilling a well wouldn’t be worth the investment for him has changed his mind.
Jenna also sees more growers implementing water-saving measures by eliminating weeds between the rows of almond trees.

Looking at the big picture, the state Department of Water Resources on April 1 took its monthly survey of the Sierra snowpack. Despite the late-season storms, the snowpack’s water content was only 32 percent of normal for this time of year. This month typically signals the start of the snow melt.

State surveyors measure snowpack.
“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said State Water Director Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”

Yes, tight water supplies are no April Fool’s Day joke.

Almond Field Day: Growers concerned about the drought and wacky weather should attend this important event: “Monitoring Practices, Irrigation Tips, Pest and Disease Management” on Thursday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Rushing Ranch, 11599 W. Shaw Avenue in Fresno. Speakers are: UC IPM Emeritus Walt Bentley, David Doll of UCCE Merced, Gene Brandi of the American Beekeeping Federation, Geurreet Brar of UCCE Fresno and Matthew Danielczyk, restoration project manager for Audubon California. As always, the event is free and 2 hours of continuing education and 2.5 hours of CCA CEU credits will be available. More details are at the Sustainable Cotton Project website. The event promises to be full of helpful information, especially during a drought year.