Monday, August 4, 2014

Drought Influences Harvest Time Farm Practices

As we head into mid-summer, farmers are starting to feel and see some of the impact of the drought in the San Joaquin Valley.

We’re seeing it in almonds and alfalfa already and certainly we’ll be seeing it in cotton as well.
Almond growers must balance their water applications.
As field scout Jenna Horine discovered  three weeks ago, some growers on the far west side of the Valley started shaking nuts off their trees – a remarkable early start of the harvest since it was only mid-July. The nut shaking continued to move eastward the following week.
 
Almond expert David Doll of UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County indicates westside growers are trying to budget their water supplies this year. Like a checkbook, growers have only so much water in their account and need to balance irrigation before harvest and after harvest. In short, they need to save enough water for their crop next year. That means growers are moving quickly to get on with the harvest and move ahead with postharvest irrigation.

Here’s what UC Davis Terry Prichard, a water management specialist, says in a report on Irrigation Management of Almond Trees Under Drought Conditions: “The effect of water deficits during the postharvest period is substantially affected by preharvest conditions and the quantity of water left for the remainder of the season. With almond trees bud differentiation continues through mid-September. Severe water stress during bud differentiation has been found to dramatically reduce fruit set the following spring. In early harvest districts, more of the high water use season remains after harvest??. This increases the necessity of postharvest irrigation.”
 
Final alfalfa irrigation is likely taking place.
For alfalfa, an earlier than normal end to the growing season looms because of tight water supplies. Some farmers have been irrigating for a fifth – and possibly final – harvest in a few weeks. In contrast, growers had enough water last year to extend their season into October.

Dr. Pete Goodell of the UC Integrated Pest Management program says the cotton crop is doing well despite the drought. Fruit set is good and pests are under control, for the moment.
The lack of water is speeding up cotton plant development.

With the lack of water, he says, “we are probably going to see an early season cutout or the crop will be taken out as early as possible.” Even if growers have adequate water supplies, they may not want to extend the season. This would allow white flies to develop later in the season and lead to sticky cotton problems.
  
“Sticky cotton has become an issue and you want to make sure you prevent it,” Pete adds.


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