Monday, July 25, 2016

Getting a Fix on Nitrogen Levels in Cotton Plants

When you go for an annual check-up, the doctor often orders lab tests to check what’s going on inside your body. The results may suggest you need to take supplements to boost the vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

It’s the same thing with plants. You test plant tissues, find if there are any nutrient deficiencies or imbalance and then fix the problem

Earlier this month, field scout Carlos Silva headed into the fields to pick petioles, or leaf stems, for nitrate sampling.Taking the fifth or sixth petiole from the top of the plant, he collected a total of 50 leaf stems from three different areas of each field. The samples were sent to a lab for analysis, which involves chemically monitoring the nitrate-nitrogen and phosphorous content of the cotton petioles.Nitrogen and phosphorous are essential for healthy plant growth.

Finding the right nitrogen balance can be tricky. If there’s not enough nitrogen, the fruiting areas and potential yield suffer. Too much nitrogen can lead to excessive growth, increased problems with diseases, delayed maturity and reduced quality and yield.

Here is an example of nitrogen deficiency in a cotton plant.
Here’s what the BASIC Cotton Manual says: ‘Petiole analysis will indicate a need for nitrogen about two weeks prior to the appearance of plant symptoms. If petiole-nitrate application is low during the first three weeks of bloom, a soil application, a foliar application, or both, would be recommended. Urea has been found to be an effective and safe source of nitrogen to apply to a developing cotton plant. Leaf and petiole analyses are most reliable when moisture and other stress-related factors are not influencing growth.”

“The lab results are really useful for the growers,” Carlos says. Growers will use the data to make decisions on future fertilizer applications.

Growers are irrigating their cotton fields for the second time.
Meanwhile in the field, Carlos reports growers are starting to irrigate their cotton fields again. The plants are showing 11 to 12 fruiting branches and pest pressures are in check for now. But Carlos says growers will start keeping a close eye on aphids as bolls start cracking open in the coming weeks. He is finding aphid populations in about a quarter of the fields he monitors weekly

In alfalfa, the plants are about 15 to 18 inches high. In the next week or two, it will be time to harvest again. While worms and caterpillars remain a concern, growers have held back on treating their fields. Their thinking, Carlos says, is why spend money on chemicals when the next cutting is coming up soon.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Uncle Sam Offers Financial Relief to Cotton Growers

Cotton growers will tell you times have been economically challenging the past five years.
You can blame sagging prices and global oversupply. In fact, the crop last fall hit its lowest price in a half-decade, selling for 60 cents a pound vs. 88 cents a pound in 2011. The National Cotton Council of Americapredicted most growers lost money in 2015.
The situation has been dire enough for some growers that they’ve resorted to selling their equipment and even their land. Ouch.
Well, enter Uncle Sam with a program to help with domestic marketing of the fiber while providing some financial relief for 2015 cotton growers. There’s only a couple weeks left for 2015 cotton producers to submit an application to participate in a $300 million Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Cotton Ginning Cost-Share program.
While the Cotton Ginning Cost-Share program makes payments to cotton producers for cotton ginning costs, the benefits of the program will be felt by the broader marketing chain associated with cotton and cottonseed, including cotton gins, cooperatives, marketers and cottonseed crushers and the rural communities that depend on them.
Under the cost-share program, eligible cotton producers can receive a one-time cost share payment, which is based on a producer’s 2015 cotton acres reported to FSA, multiplied by 40 percent of the average ginning cost for each production region. The West region, which includes California, will receive $97.41 per acre of Pima or Upland cotton planted in 2015. For example, a San Joaquin Valley grower who reports 100 acres would receive $9,741.
Strong production has contributed to an oversupply of cotton.
Completed forms must be received by the local FSA office no later than August 5. Payments will be processed as applications and other eligibility forms are received, and are expected to begin in July.
Here are the locations of FSA offices for Madera, Merced and Fresno counties
MADERA, CA 93637-3163
2926 G STREET, SUITE 103
MERCED, CA 95340
FRESNO, CA 93722
To learn more about the Cotton Ginning Cost-Share program, visit or contact a local FSA county office. To find your local FSA county office, visit
Meanwhile in the fields, field scout Carlos Silva says lygus pest pressure eased in cotton in the past week. Many growers are telling us they haven’t sprayed their fields all season. That’s good news. Let’s hope the pest numbers continue to stay low in the coming weeks.
In alfalfa, beet armyworms counts remain a concern, but their presence is still below the treatment threshold. Most growers figure they’ll be harvesting soon so spending money on treatment applications isn’t worth it. Otherwise, there are no major pest worries for alfalfa growers, Carlos says.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Future Is Now: A Big Year for Lygus Bugs in Cotton

“I was not predicting the future, I was trying to prevent it.”
― Author
Ray Bradbury

Lygus bug finds a home in alfalfa.
Dr. Pete Goodell saw the signs back in the winter as he surveyed fields around the Valley. There were lots of green growth spurred by a nice rainy season and a relatively dry, mild February.

“I found adult lygus in weedy fields…which was really, really early. I would anticipate lygus in cotton would be as bad as it was last year – maybe a little worse,” Pete told us in early March.

You might say just like Ray Bradbury, the UC IPM advisor was trying to prevent the future as well – for cotton growers in this case. Pete’s goal is getting growers to be more proactive in their pest management practices and protect valuable crop.

Here is an example of lygus damage to cotton. (UGA photo)
Field scout Carlos Silva can vouch for Pete. He is finding cotton fields on the treatment threshold for lygus bugs. His sweep net is collecting five to seven lygus counts per 50 sweeps. One farmer told Carlos that he has foundbug counts as high as 10 counts. “That’s pretty high.

There have been a few farmers that have had to treat their fields. We want to get a foothold on the pests. This is the time when lygus bugs are the biggest pest threat to cotton. The bugs can cause squares to fall off and bolls to never mature properly.

Right now, lygus bugs remain the pest de jour. 

Overall, cotton plants are continuing to develop nicely. Carlos reports eight to 10 fruiting branches on plants. “Cotton is growing fast.”

Beet armyworm in alfalfa (UC IPM photo)
In alfalfa, the crop is growing quickly as well, Carlos reports.

 One field is is already at 18 inches tall. Growers are keeping an eye out for beet armyworms from now until September. These pests can skeletonize foliage and leave a field tattered looking, degrading the crop’s quality.

UC IPM says armyworms can be controlled by natural enemies such as bigeyed bugs, minute pirate bugs and lacewings. “Early harvest, border cutting, and biological control are important components of a management program that will prevent damage from armyworms,” UC IPM says.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Starting to Check Off the Start of Hull Split in Local Almonds

Monitor for peach twig borer. Check.
Monitor navel orangeworm traps. Check.
Monitor ant mounds. Check.
Assess weeds. Check.
Monitor for scab. Check.

The checklist goes on and on for almond growers. No one said getting into the almond business was an 8 to 5 job with lots of vacation time. It’s a year-round job, especially for smaller farms.
UC Integrated Pest Management offers an annual IPM checklist for growers to follow from the dormant season to harvest time. It contains 35 different boxes. That is just for taking care of the trees and crop. It doesn’t account for the business side – from dealing with shaking crews to almond processors to paying the bills.

Right now, growers are starting to check off identifying the start of hull split, reports almond field scout Jenna Mayfield. “We’re already at hull split in many orchards.” It’s an exciting time for growers because harvest is just around the corner – some six to nine weeks away. Ideally, growers want to get the nuts off trees as soon as possible to avoid exposure to pests.

Indeed, July going to be a hectic month and a critical time for pest management. There’s regulating irrigation during hull split to manage hull rot and allowing the orchards to be dry enough for shakers to come into the orchards.
Initial separation stage.
Unsplit stage of the almond.
Deep V of unsplit almond.
A 3/8-inch split of the almond hull.
Initial drying state of the almond.

The completely dry stage of the almond. (UC IPM photos)
Jenna reminds growers to take care of any pest problems now. For example, growers want to make sure that ant bait won’t be left over when the nuts are shaken to the ground.

In the trees, peach twig borer and hull rot fungi are threats at hull split, according to UC IPM.
“A lot of people are hull split spraying. The nuts become vulnerable at hull split,” Jenna says. 

 If navel orangeworm(NOW) is a major problem, the orchard can be harvested twice – once to take off the early ripening nuts and the second to remove the later ripening ones. Jenna notes growers are treating orchard blocks that have history of NOW problems.

Once growers determine hull split has started they should monitor trees until you can see at eye level that 95 to 100 percent of the nuts are split. Then growers should shake a few trees to see if they are satisfied with the nut removal. If not, shake again a few days later. It’s best to harvest first the orchard blocks with the poorest sanitation.

Overall, Jenna says pest pressures have been mild overall. “So far so good.” We’ll cover more as almonds get closer to harvest. 

Meanwhile in the fields, field scout Carlos Silva says alfalfa growers are starting to harvest their crop again. The timing of the harvest varies from area to area. Some parts of the Valley tend to harvest earlier than others.

Carlos says pest problems have been fairly mild in alfalfa so far this season. “Pests have been down this year.”

 But there remains lots of lygus bugs living in alfalfa and they are a constant threat to migrate to nearby cotton fields during harvest. Sounding like a broken record, Carlos again reminds growers to leave strips of uncut alfalfa to leave a habitat for lygus bugs and prevent a mass migration into cotton.
Cotton are starting to develop their flowers.

Cotton plants continue to grow quickly under the intense hot weather gripping the Valley. More blooms are showing up, creating a colorful backdrop for photo buffs. Carlos says plants have up to seven to eight fruiting nodes.

Lygus threat remains an issue. Carlos is still getting two to three counts per set of 50 sweeps. That number is worrisome for fields at the early squaring stage. At first flower around this time of year (mid-squaring stage), the counts can be higher – seven to 10 bugs per 50 sweeps.
“Lygus is the pest that growers need to be on top of,” Carlos says.

FIELD DAY ALERT: Come to the Mid-season Cotton Field Day at the McCurdy Farm at Highway 33 near West Shaw on Thursday, July 7 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. UC IPM advisor Dr. Pete Goodell, Fresno County UCCE cotton specialist Dan Munk, UCCE cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell and Bob Hutmacher, cooperative extension specialist with the Westside REC.The speakers will update farmers about the cottongrowing season at mid-year and cover issues such as crop-damaging pests, Race 4 Fusarium disease, early pima defoliation and fertilizer and irrigation management. Directions are available in the
events section of the Sustainable Cotton Project’s website – Various continuing education credits will be available. See you there.