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.


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