Monday, May 16, 2016

What a Tame Godzilla El Niño Means to SJ Valley Crops

After a normal rain season in the San Joaquin Valley, the dreaded “D” word cropped up a week ago after Gov. Jerry Brown handed down an executive order declaring our Golden State is still golden brown.
Yes, the drought is still with us.  
Of course, no one was surprised by the news, especially west side farmers who learned in April that federal water allocations would be a meager 5 percent. We also knew the“Godzilla El Niño” we were told would to produce gully washers from the sky had fizzled. Instead of Noah’s Ark type storms, we saw a more seasonal rainy season.

Still, no one is complaining about a wet year. Any rain was welcomed. At least we fared better than our cohorts in SoCal.

Here’s an interesting Weather Service map that shows rainfall for Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley was above normal through March while the south state remained brown and dry. 

Water politics aside, what does this mean to farmers – four dry years followed by a normal rain season. We asked alfalfa and cotton expert Dr. Pete Goodell of UC IPM about his thoughts.

Pete said the rains spurred weed growth in alfalfa fields during the dry spell in February.

 “I found adult lygus bugs in weeds in the (alfalfa) fields back in February, which was really, really early. They hadn’t reproduced yet,” Pete says. “The more rainfall we have the more weeds we have.” March and April turned out to be nice wet months, enough to spur more “green material” to grow in the spring and become habitat for worms and lygus bugs to flourish. UC IPM notes that more than 200 different weeds can serve as hosts for the lygus bug.

Weeds growing among alfalfa.
“I would anticipate that lygus in cotton would be as bad as it was last year.” Pete advises growers to keeping a close watch for lygusbugs at the “earliest square set.” This pest is a big threat when cotton is most vulnerable – from about mid-May to late July. 

A field of freshly cut alfalfa is turned over for drying.
What’s the problem? Well, alfalfa and cotton fields are often neighbors. While lygus bugs prefer life in alfalfa, they will migrate to nearby cotton fields after their homes are disturbed – namely during alfalfa cutting.

Field scout Carlos Silva reports growers have wrapped up their alfalfa second harvest and it will be important for them to take steps during next month’s cutting to minimize lygus bug migration into cotton. We’ll cover pest management strategies throughout the season. 
Alfalfa bales await hauling after the 2nd harvest of the year.

The good news is Carlos isn’t finding any major pest issues in alfalfa and cotton right now. “Cotton looks good and well established.” Cotton plants are at first or second true leaf.

Meanwhile, field scout Jenna Mayfield says almonds are looking good, too, with pest numbers in check. “The nuts are pretty consistent in size.”

Growers are staying on top of tree diseases by applying fungicides. “Everyone is being pretty proactive,” Jenna says. 

Next week, Merced County UCCE pomologist David Doll – aka the Almond Doctor – offers his thoughts about the drought and its effect on almonds this year.

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