Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Got My Drift? That’s Not Good for Crops, Workers and Water

The grower surveyed his orchard teeming with lush almond trees.

With field scout Jenna Horine in tow, he pointed to some branches with dying, yellow leaves. It was affecting new growth – branches on the bottom of the tree – on all different varieties in the orchard.
Was the die-back caused by pests? Diseases? 

The grower seemed was puzzled. Jenna asked if he had used Round-Up to control the weeds that popped up over the winter. Indeed, he did – in windy conditions.

The lesson here is growers need to be reminded to be aware of wind conditions when applying pesticides and herbicides. Drift can be an issue that not only impacts the individual grower’s farm, but the neighbor’s operations as well. It also can affect the health of workers and water quality.
Some might recall a string of pesticide drift issues a dozen years ago in Kern County that affected more than 500 people. That prompted UC IPM and Kern County ag officials to conduct a series of safety classes.
 “The old mentality where limited pesticide exposure is just considered part of the job has evolved into a regional ‘zero tolerance’ movement," UC IPM’s David Haviland said at the time.

Turning our attention to the fields, alfalfa growers are in the midst of their second harvest of the season. The recent heat wave is helping dry the freshly cut alfalfa on the ground.

Many growers are planning for a third alfalfa harvest.
Yes, it seems growers are prepared to irrigate again to get at least one more harvest, according to field scout Carlos Silva. Because of the drought and tight water supplies, growers had talked about getting only two harvests in 2014. After that though, it is anyone’s guess if they can squeeze out a fourth cutting.

Carlos says the alfalfa harvest appeared to arrive at the right time. He was finding an increase of caterpillars in the fields. Fortunately, growers didn’t have to deal with growing pest pressure because it was time to harvest. That was a bit of good news during this tumultuous drought-plagued year.

Cotton is up and growing with no significant issues. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ag Workers, Crops Cope with Hot Times in the Springtime

 Whew… Summer came five weeks early last week as the Valley baked under the sun.
That prompted field scouts Jenna Horine and Carlos Silva to hit the road early and wrap up their work in the fields and orchards by early afternoon.

Last Thursday, the high temperature soared to 102 degrees, matching the record high first set in 1927, before “dipping” to 100 on Friday. For much of the week, temperatures had hovered in the mid- to high-90s.
For farmers, drought and hot weather isn’t a good combination.
Almond growers are irrigating to avoid heat stress.
Jenna reports that almond growers moved quickly to lessen the heat stress to their trees and crop. “Everyone is putting on a lot of water.”

On the flip side, the young cotton plants are thriving in the hot weather. Many are one or two nodes above stem. The heat also is speeding up recently cut alfalfa drying in the fields.

Heat speeds up drying of alfalfa in the field.
Meanwhile, pest numbers have been fairly low in almonds. But the hot weather could cause a bump up in crop-threatening bugs.

While we’re accustomed to hot weather around here, this early season heat wave is still tough to take. It’s particularly hard for those working outdoors. 

Farm groups along with Cal/OSHA stress the importance of taking precautions to beat the heat. Carlos, for example, always grabs a large container of cold water and a floppy hat before heading out.
The Fresno County Farm Bureau says growers should implement heat procedures when temperatures top 95 degrees. Here are some tips from the bureau:
  • Drink small amounts of water frequently.
  • Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink.
  • Take advantage of shade-and-rest breaks.
  • Start work earlier in the day, to avoid the afternoon heat.
  • Know how to recognize the symptoms of heat illness, such as poor concentration, cramping, fatigue, blurry vision, headache, dizziness and nausea.
  • If you notice heat illness symptoms in yourself or a co-worker, have the victim stop working, find shade, loosen clothing, get fluids, and fan the body with any item available.
  • Serious fluid loss can lead to heat stroke, which is an emergency -- if this happens, seek medical help right away.
Workers should drink lots of water. - Associated Press photo
Growers also can sign up for a heat illness prevention class offered by organizations such as AgSafe, a nonprofit group led by farmers such as Joe del Bosque, an active growers in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project and chairman emeritus of AgSafe. Following these basic precautions are good for the worker and the farm.

To Joe, it’s important for employees to work in a safe environment.  And it’s good for the operation. “They (workers) are a vital part of my business,” Joe told us recently. “It’s very important to me being able to work in a fair and safe environment.”

Monday, May 12, 2014

There’s No Time to Get Sappy Over Almond Pests

Sometimes Mother Nature likes to play tricks. Just ask almond growers.

Take a look at these photos. You’ll notice oozing sap coming out of the green hulls. What’s the cause? If you said leaffooted bugs or stink bugs, then give yourself a hand. Maybe.
Jenna Horine shows sap caused by leaffooted bugs.

Field scout Jenna Horine reminds growers that they can’t judge a hull by its outward appearance.
Indeed, wild swings in temperatures – not bugs – can be causing the oozing sap. For example, look at the high temperatures the past few of weeks: April 24 – 64 degrees; May 2 – 97    degrees; May 6 – 76 degrees; and forecast for Wednesday – 104 degrees. Talk about yo-yoing temperatures.
Of course, gumming on the hull can be attributed to stink bugs or leaf-footed bugs. Here’s what University of California IPM says about these pests:

Oozing can come from bug damage or nature.
Here is what an egg mass from leaffooted bugs looks like.
·         The leaffooted bug overwinters in the adult stage in aggregations in orchards, or near orchards on native host plants, from which it migrates into orchards in March or early April in search of nuts on which to feed. Varieties with softer shells such as Fritz, Sonora,  Monterey and Peerless are more susceptible to bug damage for a longer period during the season.
·         Stink bug damage is more common in May and June.  Another way to distinguish damage, considering that symptoms are so similar, is to find the actual bugs or their egg masses. 

How do you tell if the gumming is bug or weather related? Jenna says growers should cut a cross-section across the damaged area to look for puncture marks from the bug’s mouth to confirm the gumming is caused by pests instead of Mother Nature. In addition, spotting masses of eggs and damaged nuts are the most practical way to see if there are leaffooted plant bugs or stink bugs around.

Meanwhile, field scout Carlos Silva reports pest populations have been low in alfalfa. Growers are waiting for their crop to grow a little more before moving ahead with the second cutting of the season.  It still early to determine if there will be a third cutting due to the drought.

In cotton, the seedlings are doing well and developing the first true leaf. Soon, we’ll start seeing plant development.