Monday, June 8, 2015

Fallowing Fields to Stay Afloat During State's Historic Drought: Are More to Come?

For several years, we’ve talked about how farming is a tough business. To survive, you need to be resilient, adaptive and possess a can-do spirit. We have certainly seen that in recent years.

Some growers are diverting water from alfalfa to other crops.
Indeed, farmers weren’t discouraged by one dry year ... a second dry year … and even a third dry year – somehow managing to get enough water to survive financially in 2014. They learned to use water wisely and turned to more to drip systems and deficit irrigation practices.

But this fourth straight dry year is testing the limits of even the most seasoned veteran growers. Take some of the innovative farmers who have participated in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project (SJSFP).

As we mentioned recently, one of the program’s growers opted to stop farming one if his alfalfa fields to divert precious irrigation water to a higher value crop. Now, another grower has called it quits after his third alfalfa cutting of the season and disc under the field, reports field scout Carlos Silva.

“Alfalfa takes up a lot of water for the season,” Carlos says. “The grower is going to use the water for his almonds.”

Grower Joe Del Bosque casts shadow over a fallow field.
Last week, another long-time Valley farmer and SJ farming project participant made a similar difficult decision, deciding to pull out his 70-acre asparagus field in the Firebaugh area. “We don’t have enough water to carry it from here on,” Joe Del Bosque told Your Central

Unfortunately, we expect this same story to play out elsewhere in the Valley as we move into summer.

Carlos notes alfalfa growers have wrapped up the third cutting of the season, but it is anyone’s guess how many more harvests there will be left. Last year, growers managed to acquire enough water to make it through an entire growing season, which normally ends in the early fall.

“Everyone is trying to grow as much hay as possible this year,” Carlos says.

At least, there is some good news for alfalfa growers. Pests so far have been in check. Carlos is seeing a small uptick in alfalfa caterpillars and beet armyworms, but the numbers are nothing to be alarmed about right now.

The first irrigation of the cotton growing season is underway.
Speaking of water, cotton growers are starting their first irrigation of the season. “The crop is growing pretty fast. Some of the plants are getting pretty big,” Carlos says, noting that some plants are at eight to nine main stem nodes. Soon he will be keeping a record on fruit retention.

On the pest front, Carlos is finding some spider mites in the cotton fields. He’ll be keeping a close eye on these bugs.

Field Day Alert: Don’t forget about the Tuesday, June 16 Cotton Field day scheduled from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the D&V McCurdy Farm, Highway 33 in Firebaugh. Cotton growers can learn valuable insights about insects and water and weed management from these speakers: Dr. Pete Goodell of UC Statewide IPM, Dan Munk of UCCE Fresno County, Kurt Humbree of UCCE Fresno County and Bob Hutmacher of the Westside Research and Extension Center. Mark the date on your calendar. For more information, contact Marcia Gibbs of the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project at (530) 370-5325.

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