Monday, October 27, 2014

Cotton Growers Welcome Dry Weather …This Time of Year

Throughout the year, dry weather dominated the talk among farmers across the San Joaquin Valley.  In the winter and early spring, they looked to the skies for a heavy helping of wet weather to come, but came up empty.
Indian summer arrives in time for the cotton harvest.
This time of year, though, dry weather is welcomed by cotton growers with the fall harvest in full swing. So far, we’ve been experiencing a rain-free October with the daily temperatures averaging nearly 89 degrees – some 15 degrees above the historic average, according to the National Weather Service. October normally averages about one-third inch of rain.
Some years, we have seen above-average rainfall totals – storms that slowed the harvest and threatened fiber quality.
We remember that three years ago -- October 5 to be precise – Mother Nature dropped nearly an inch of rain. We fondly recall October 13, 2009 when 1.28 inches of rain drenched Valley cotton fields.  That day, dozens of visitors touring the cotton fields during the Sustainable Cotton Project’s annual farm tour got soaked as they slogged through the muddy fields to get a close look at water-logged fiber. By the way, another .11 inches fell the next day. 
There are no worries about rain-soaked cotton this season.
Usually, a little rain helps wash off any dust or sticky honeydew on the plants. As long as the sun comes out and there’s a nice warm wind blowing the next day, the cotton will dry sufficiently to avoid any concerns about mold or mildew problems.

This year, our Indian summer is perfect weather for cotton harvesting – as well as Jack o’ lanterns, scare crows and trips to the pumpkin patch. This Halloween, growers are counting on a nice treat – good cotton quality.
Field scout Carlos Silva says all growers have finished defoliating their cotton plants. He estimates about half of the fields have been harvested.  On the pest front, white fly and aphid populations have been in check, allaying fears about sticky cotton. 
Sign warns about defoliation.
Speaking of farm tours, you might see a couple tour buses rumbling around the cotton fields on Thursday. The ever-popular Cotton Farm Tour takes place again. Sponsored by the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project, the annual free event offers visitors from fashion brands, design students, government agencies and other community members a behind-the-scenes look at the many sides of cotton production. 
One more cutting looms for Valley alfalfa growers.

Meanwhile, Carlos says most alfalfa growers are experiencing a rather normal season. By his count, some three out of four growers are looking at harvesting one more time. Some are even squeezing out one more crop without irrigating this round.

Cutting started last week and more alfalfa harvesting will continue this week.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Oh Nuts – Time to Get Cracking on Almond Samples

Crack…Crack… Crack… 

There’s no need to adjust your volume.

That’s the rhythmic sound you hear emanating from the home of almond field scout Jenna Horine.

That’s the staccato rhythm of almond after almond after almond being cracked by Jenna. It’s a laborious, yet important job she does every fall.
Jenna is busy cracking thousands of nut samples.

“Cracking the nuts and inspecting each one helps confirm what I saw in the orchards during scouting this season,” Jenna says. 

For Jenna, this is crack-out season – a time when you crack the nut, shell the kernel and look for signs of pest damage that occurred in every orchard that she scouted during the spring and summer.

So far, Jenna’s gone through about a quarter of the more than 5,000 almonds she collected from more than two dozen orchards throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

Hullers will provide a grade on the quality of a grower's crop.
During the harvest, you could find Jenna wading around carpets of nuts just shaken off trees, collecting samples in a brown paper lunch bag. Jenna picked up nuts from three different areas of an orchard where she had placed pest traps. In each orchard, she collected 200 of each variety of almonds. For example, if a grower had nonpareil, Buttes and Carmel varieties in an orchard, Jenna would gather a total of 600 nuts.
Nut sampling is extremely helpful practice advocated by UC almond experts. Unlike the familiar stock market caveat – you know the “past performance does not predict future returns” warning – nut sampling is a good way to identity past pest damage and predict potential future damage. Moreover, experts say crackout prevents growers from making the wrong assumptions about pests.

Jenna records her findings from each orchard and sends the information to each grower. The results are a kind of progress report about the grower’s integrated pest management program. Her findings also provide information to compare with the grade sheet received from the huller.

An example of Navel orangeworm damage . ( UC IPM photo)

To date, Jenna reports no significant problems from peach twig borer (PTB). She has found some evidence of ant damage. She isn’t surprised about the samples with naval orangeworm damage. The damaged nuts are usually found in orchards that plagued by NOW problems during the year.

Samples from farmers who followed best management practices are relatively free from NOW damage. Kudos to these growers. Keep up the good work.

Crack …crack…crack… We’ll keep you updated about Jenna gets cracking on more almond samples in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 6, 2014

From Seed to Fiber - It's Been a Long Journey for Cotton

 It has been six months since growers planted the seeds for the 2014 cotton crop in the San Joaquin Valley.

With fall now here, we can officially say the harvest season is upon us. A few growers already have started running their harvesters, earning the recognition as one of the first farms to harvest cotton in the region.
Of course, every farm is at a difference stage. Field scout Carlos Silva points out that some growers have finished defoliating their fields and are now waiting for the plants to dry out. Others are still waiting to start the process.
Cotton defoliation is well under way in the Valley.

For growers this is the most exciting and hectic time of the year. They can finally see the fruits of their labor. However, they won’t relax until their cotton is off to the gin. Then they can look back and say they survived a trying year marked by tight water supplies and a big drop in acreage – both due to the drought. No one ever said farming is easy.

The alfalfa season lasted longer than anticipated in 2014.
Meanwhile, alfalfa growers have finished harvesting their crop. Carlos hasn’t seen any fields being irrigated so far. That could be a sign we’ve seen the last of alfalfa for the season – which isn’t surprising for this time of year. 

Of course, having a fairly normal alfalfa growing season is quite an achievement in 2014. Many thought they would run out of water at the start of summer and call it quits in June. Every cutting after that proved to be a bonus this year.

Here’s a final alert for growers about Tuesday’s Almond Field Day. Get some valuable post harvest management tips from UCCE Merced’s David Doll and UCCE Fresno’s Gurrett Brar from 10 a.m. to noon in Los Banos.  The event will be conducted at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road. Continuing education and CCA credits will be available. For more information, contact Project Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or