Monday, August 31, 2015

San Joaquin Valley Almond Harvest is Just Going Nuts

It’s just nuts out there.

That’s how field scout Jenna Mayfield describes the buzz of activity taking place in almond orchards across the San Joaquin Valley. “Harvest is happening everywhere – day and night,” Jenna points out.
Yes, tree shakers and orchard floor sweepers are working around the clock to harvest the state’s No. 1 export crop.

Tree shaking occurring all day long.
It’s safe to say there is a plenty of work to do – like 890,000 acres worth of almonds in the state. For each tree, there’s an estimated 5,829 nuts to shake off, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). (Amazing how they can come up with such a precise nut count.)

How far along each grower and each orchard are in the harvest varies greatly. It varies by region in which climate and water availability can play a role. “There’s some orchard blocks that are a month away from harvest,” Jenna says.

The size of an almond operation can play a role in the harvest timing as well.

Jenna notes the farms with smaller acreage can get squeezed. Larger operations have an advantage because of their sheer size. Contractors hired to shake trees and sweep up the fallen nuts will make more money from the larger operations – thereby giving them more priority.

A sweeper blows nuts into a pile for collecting off the ground.
That can create problems for growers waiting a while for a sweeper to arrive – even though the nuts may be ready to be collected and hauled off to the processor. The longer the nuts sit on the ground, the greater the potential for ant damage.

While growers can breathe easier once the harvest is over, they still won’t have much time to take relax. There are plenty of post-harvest chores ahead.

Jenna says one of the early tasks on the checklist is inspecting the irrigation lines. This should be done even during mid-harvest after the first time the shakers and sweepers go through the orchard.
Workers repair broken almond tree drip lines.
The harvesting machines can wreck havoc with irrigation lines as well as sprinkler heads and emitters. “Drip lines can be spread all over the place. It’s fairly commonly.” The result: Some areas of the orchard will be flooded while other sections are left thirsty after growers turn on the water tap.

Jenna has first-hand experience. During one of her recent scouting outings, Jenna spotted one section of orchard inundated with water because of a busted line. She waded through the mud and muck to try to make repairs, knowing the grower couldn’t afford to waste precious and costly water supplies. Jenna eventually found crews to fix the line.

In the meantime, field scout Carlos Silva reports alfalfa growers are irrigating their fields again, a good sign that the season will extend into September. The drought sparked fears that the alfalfa season would be cut short as growers divert their water supplies to other crops. A few did that earlier this summer. But Carlos say most have persevered.

In cotton, “everyone has pretty much wrapped up the last irrigation. All the fields are starting to show open bolls,”  Carlos says. Coming up will be defoliation and then the fall harvest.
The cotton crop is getting the final irrigation of the season.

On the pest front, aphid populations are still high in the cotton fields while whitefly has remained in check. Growers need to keep monitoring for these pest to avoid sticky cotton.

Meanwhile, this month’s NASS crop production report estimated the California growers will harvest 50,000 acres of upland cotton, yielding 1,728 pounds per acre. Pima acreage is estimated at 109,000 acres with a yield put at 1,541 pounds per acre.
Field Day Alert: Growers should check out the Almond Post Harvest Management Field Day from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 10, at the corner of Mercy Springs Road and Cotton Gin Road in Los Banos. Pomologist David Doll of UCCE Merced County will talk about fall and dormant cultural practices to reduce disease and maximize next season’s tree productivity. UCCE IPM Advisor Dr. Jhalendra Rijal will discuss seasonal considerations for pest monitoring in almonds and Ganesh Vishwanath of SeaNutri will cover the use of seaweed-based products in farming. Two continuingeducation credits areavailable as well as CCA credits. For more information, contact Marcia Gibbs of the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project at (530) 370-5325.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Sticky Cotton Watch Begins with the First Open Boll

 For cotton growers, now is the time for them to start seeing the fruits of their long, hard labor.
It’s when the thick greenish, cotton bolls start to crack open – like a chick cracking through an egg shell. What emerges is the long, cotton fiber or lint. This is a sure sign that cotton’s journey is taking another step forward toward the fall harvest.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports sightings of the first cotton bolls opening in some San Joaquin Valley fields. It won’t be long before others fields start resembling a carpet of white pop corn. “The plants are full of bolls. They’re ready to start opening up.”

Of course, there’s little time for growers to admire this transformation. There’s still a long time before the crop is hauled off to the gin. And there still are lots of things to worry, especially pest threats.

Cotton bolls are starting to crack open in the Valley.
“Aphids are showing up in the fields,” Carlos says. “Sticky cotton is the biggest issue for growers.”

Indeed, the valuable cotton fiber is coming out of its protective shell. Heavy aphid and whitefly populations could lead to costly sticky cotton, which severely impacts the fiber quality.

Right now, Carlos is finding an increase in aphid populations in some fields. He stresses the importance of weekly monitoring.

Here’s how UC IPM’s guide to taking samples for aphids as well as whitefly after the first open boll:

“Beginning at least 50 paces into the field, choose a sample plant at random and select the fifth mainstem node leaf from the terminal. Using a hand lens, turn the leave over and check for insects on the underside. Count and record the number and color – either yellow or black aphids.
Sampling for aphids and whitefly is important as bolls open up.

“If three or more whitefly adults are found, then the leaf should be counted as infested. For whitefly, the threshold is 40 percent of the leaves are infested. The treatment threshold during this time is five to 10 aphids per fifth mainstem node.”

Meanwhile, Carlos says alfalfa growers are starting to harvest again. A few already have finished cutting and started irrigating for another harvest. Cowpea aphids are worms are the main pest threats. So far, their numbers haven’t reached the threshold for treatment.

 [MG1]What does this mean white or black? Aphids or whielflies or different types of aphids?

Monday, August 17, 2015

There’s No Discounting the Value of Taking Almond Samples at Harvest Time

You might remember the State Farm TV commercial featuring pitchman and NFL quarterback Aaron Rogers urging consumers to do the discount double check to save big bucks by comparing insurance policies. 

You might say field scout Jenna Mayfield is making the same pitch to almond growers, urging them to double check harvested nuts before they’re swept up and hauled to the huller.

Yes, it’s a big commitment. But almond expert David Doll of UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County says it’s worth the investment in time and effort. Sampling nuts can show damage during the harvest process as well as damage from pests. These results can be compared with the damage report from a processor.

Collect almond samples before they go to the processor.
Doll has found discrepancies in the damage/reject rate between a processor’s report and information collected from the almond samples taken off the orchard floor. The difference could be costly. At the same time, the information about bug damage this season can improve pest management practices and help improve quality next season (translation: better financial returns).

Results from samples can be compared to the huller's grade.
“Knowing the damage that occurs provides the ability to develop the most cost-effective way to manage orchard pests,” Doll wrote in a past Almond Doctor blog post. “If practices are changed within the orchard for a season, the harvest sample can provide the information to see if the changed practices provided an increase in marketable yields. If not, it may be best to modify or return to the previous year’s program.”

While extension advisors and almond industry experts urge growers to take harvest samples, Jenna says the practice isn’t as widely followed as she would like it to be. She collects samples for growers who participate in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming project. These growers can use her information and compare it with the grade coming from the huller. Call it a good double check.

Samples should be collected from different orchard blocks.
In recent weeks, Jenna has been busy collecting nut samples from various orchards. She collects about 70 nuts from three different orchard locations, areas where pest traps have been placed. This also allows her to compare the damage with the pest information gathered from the traps during the season. Later, she’ll crack each nut to inspect them for evidence of pests and pest damage.

The bottom line: Growers shouldn’t discount the importance of taking harvest samples.

Meanwhile, Jenna reports Butte and Padre trees are now being harvested. Growers that finished collecting their first crop are irrigating again before going back into the orchard for a second shaking. “Harvest is in full swing,” she says.

(Note: Jenna Mayfield (aka Jenna Horine) is still our same expert field scout with a new name. Look for her as Mayfield from now on)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cotton Bolls Reaching Maturity at Cutout Time in the Valley

 There comes a time when everything matures and stops growing.

 For people, growth can stop in high school or even college – whether it’s a 5-foot tall Olympic gymnast or 7-foot-5 pro basketball player.

For cotton, it’s when plants are at three to five Nodes Above White Flower (NAWF). We call it cutout, a time with cotton bolls are mature and about 95 percent of the crop has been set. Cutout is the final stage before the boll cracks open. It’s an important barometer for growers because cutout provides a good indication about the cotton yield during harvest time. (Of course, there are still a lot of things to worry about that can affect the ultimate fiber output by fall.)
Cotton bolls in fields across the Valley are reaching maturity.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports many fields are at cutout. “The fruit is looking really good,” he says.

On the pest front, growers can stop monitoring for lygus bugs about 10 days after cutout. That leaves spider mites, aphids and whitefly as the major pest threats to the cotton crop. So far, Carlos is finding some aphids and the emergence of whitefly in the fields this past week. But the bugs appear under control for now.

So how to you measure Nodes Above White Flower? Here’s what UC IPM says:
  • Select a minimum of 5 plants with a first-position flower from each of four different areas in the field.
  • Count the node with a first-position flower as zero and move toward the terminal.
  • Record the total nodes above white flower for all of the samples.
  • Record the number of plants sampled.
  • Divide the total number of nodes by the total number of plants sampled.
If the terminal node has a leaf associated with it of at least 1 inch in diameter, consider it a new node, UC IPM says. Happy counting.

Meanwhile, Carlos says cotton growers have been irrigating their fields. Alfalfa is growing back with another harvest coming up in a couple weeks.

Field Scout Jenna Horine says the almond harvest is in full swing. She’s starting to take samples from the orchard floor before the nuts are swept up and taken to the huller. Later this year, Jenna will be cracking the samples to inspect them for damage.
Leaffooted bugs are rarely in almonds this time of year.

One interesting note on the pest front: Jenna reports found some leaffooted bugs in one almond orchard – a very unusual discovery.  UC IPM describes the bug as “an infrequent pest in almonds.” 

Moreover, the leaffooted bug usually migrates into almond orchards during the early spring, looking for developing nuts to munch on while the shells are soft.Jenna suspects the pest may have migrated from a nearby grape vineyard being prepped for harvest.