Monday, August 29, 2016

Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake … Shake Your Buttes, Padres and Nonpareils Off the Trees

The almond harvest is in full swing. Perhaps, we should call it the almond harvest season.

Some might think, harvesting an almond orchard amounts to knocking down the nuts, letting them dry on the ground for a week or two and then hauling them off to the processor.

No so. In fact, the harvest stretches from summer to early fall for growers.

Shaking takes place more than once during the harvest.
“You harvest one almond variety at a time. Some growers have three to four varieties in their orchard,” says field scout Jenna Mayfield. That’s a whole lot of shaking going on.

In California, growers produce 30 difference almond varieties – although 10 varieties make up 70 percent of the state’s production.  Overall, all varieties fall under three general classifications – Nonpareil, California and Mission.

One interesting fact about almonds is you need at least two different varieties in an orchard for the trees to produce. Growers will plant one variety in one row and another in the next row.
The soft shell nonpareil varieties are the first to be harvested. Hard shell varieties such as Padre are harvested later.

That’s why you see dust clouds produced by tree shaking machines more than that once during the season. Jenna points out harvesting can be a chess game with multiple growers vying to schedule tree shakers and sweepers to work in their orchards. Smaller farms sometimes will work together to line up shakers for multiple orchards to avoid delays.

Jenna adds that each grower usually has a different opinion about harvesting. Some, for example, will come back and re-shake the same rows again to catch all the nuts on the trees. Others, she adds, will send out pole crews to knock off every nut to prevent over wintering of the dreaded navel orangeworm and pest damage the next season. “Shaking isn’t going to get every nut off the tree.”

Drive slowly on dusty roads to avoid stirring up mites.
Right now, a number of growers are irrigating between harvests. A few are treating orchard blocks prone to mites. You need four to six weeks between the application and next harvest.

Jenna reminds growers to slow down when driving on dirt roads to avoid stirring up mites in the ground. “There are a lot of mites out there.”

Right now, ants have been a problem for those nuts still drying on the ground. Doing a quick check of samples, Jenna is finding nuts with ant damage.

Meanwhile, field scout Carlos Silva says aphids and worms are still present in alfalfa but there hasn’t been a push for growers to treat. The plants generally are 14 to 15 inches tall and a few weeks away from the next cutting. 
Cotton plants are getting their last irrigation of the season.

In cotton, growers are irrigating for the last time before the fall harvest. He reports more fields with bolls opening up and lint visible. Aphids and whitefly are lurking, posing a threat for sticky cotton to show up later on. “It’s important for growers to stay on top of these pests,” Carlos says.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wilting Cotton Plants: Race 4 Fusarium Expands to the North

 It’s a nasty ailment that has traveled northward to cotton fields in the Northern San Joaquin Valley over the past five years.

 It can spread easily by foot, water and farm equipment, leaving swaths of bare spots in fields.

Bare spots will show up in Race 4 fusarium infected fields.
“Race 4 fusarium wilt continues to be a problem for many growers in the Valley. Unfortunately this area has been a hot spot to identify newly recognized fields with race 4 fusarium wilt,” says Bob Hutmacher a University of California Cooperative Extension specialist at the Westside Research and Extension Center.

Over the years, we’ve talked about Race 4 and how it has been heading our way from the south end of the valley in Kern County.  Today, Bob says growers around here are starting to recognize this issue – a big plus – and huddling with their pest control advisers, farm consultants and UC experts to explore ways to address the issue.

“After quite a few years of continuing cotton production in this area we are seeing more damage in the upland and acala fields,”Hutmacher told us recently. “It takes a long period for the inoculum levels to build to where you see those type of problems in the upland fields.”

A young cotton plant suffering from fusarium wilt.
Race 4 is a fungus in the soil. It can infect plants and cause a vascular wilt in a number of cotton varieties. The spores can be spread through regular farming practices such as irrigation and cultivation.  It can cause damage in a variety of soil types. Over time, it can spread through an entire field and ultimately cause widespread plant losses and stunted growth, adding up to a costly loss in yield.

Hutmacher points out that farmers will reseed a field that had been out of cotton for a few years. Then suddenly, the disease crops up – the first clue comes early in the growing season as  seedlings wither and die.

In the past, growers generally ignored the issue. Now, more are being proactive and want to know if their fields are infected. “People have been very good about working with their PCAs, seed companies and consultants to try to get answers to know what they are dealing with.”

Once growers know they have an infected field, they can take steps to slow the spread of the disease. That includes cleaning soil from equipment, limiting the movement of soil and plant debris from the infected field and planting resistant varieties.

“They (growers) seem fairly receptive that they need to grow resistant varieties,”Hutmachersays. One concern that he hears from growers: While seed companies have come up with good choices for resistant pima varieties, the firms have been slow to put resistant upland varieties on the market.

The first cotton boll opening up was reported in Dos Palos.
Meanwhile in the fields, field scout Carlos Silva reports the first sighting of cotton bolls cracking open in a Dos Palos field. That’s exciting news and a sign of things to come.

Carlos is finding more aphids and whitefly showing up. That’s something to keep an eye out for as more bolls start to open. Sticky cotton is always a concern. We willcover that topic down the road.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Light Pest Year Can Translate into Good Yield, Money Savings & Greener Environment in the Valley

Farmers will tell you every growing season is different. Some years are good. Some are average. And some are poor.

This year is no different.  In this case, the news is good on the pest front – a welcome development after enduring year after year of news about the drought.

Pest pressure has been low in cotton so far this season.
“The pest populations have been under control this season,” reports field scout Carlos Silva. In fact, some cotton growers tell him “they haven’t had to spray (for pests) all year.”

While Carlos has spotted his share of bad bugs in alfalfa and cotton fields this season, their populations have been in check for the most part, usually falling under the threshold that UC IPM sets for treatment.

Why has this season been different than past seasons? It’s hard to say. 

“There are good years and there are bad years for pests,” Carlos said. “Sometimes you get lucky.”
The bottom line for growers: less money spent on chemicals, fewer headaches about crop damage and a cleaner environment.
Practicing BMPs can lead to fewer pest problems.
 Almond field scout Jenna Mayfield agrees. But she adds it’s not all luck when pest pressures are low in orchards. Growers who diligently follow best management practices put the odds in their favor.

“It’s been a pretty uneventful year,” Jenna says about pest problems in almonds.

“Our growers are on top of things,” Jenna says. “They’re following their best management practices.”  Taking steps such as cleaning up their orchards and removing mummy nuts during the winter will go along way toward avoiding pest issues down the road.

In the meantime, Jenna reports almond growers have finished shaking their nonpareil varieties off the trees. The nuts continue to dry on the ground, waiting to be swept up and hauled off to the hullers soon. “The biggest concern is ants. Growers want to get the nuts picked up as soon as they can,” Jenna says.

In the field, many alfalfa growers are irrigating again, preparing for another harvest in a few weeks. Carlos is keeping an eye out for worms and spotted alfalfa aphids – but no real problems have surfaced.

Growers are irrigating alfalfa for the next cutting.
Cotton plants are flourishing and flush with bolls. Lygus bugs aren’t a problem, but there are some whitefly and aphids turning up. Those could be a problem down the road when the bolls open up. We will have to wait and see. Carlos says cutout is still a few weeks away. In cutout, the plant is in the final stage of growth before the boll opens up. It occurs when new terminal growth ends and the plant is at three nodes above white bloom.

Monday, August 8, 2016

'Got Hay' & 'A Bale A Day' Are Nice Slogans But Alfalfa Does Well on Its Own in California

Alfalfa harvesters are busy working the fields, chalking up another cutting for the season, reports field scout Carlos. As we head toward fall, the cuttings will be winding down along with the quality of the hay.

Alfalfa is one of the top 10 crops economically in California.
Carlos points out some growers will try to squeeze out a final harvest before the weather turns cooler. You have to give alfalfa farmers credit – they have been sticking with the crop through the last five years of drought.

You might ask why stick with alfalfa?

It is a thirsty crop, using about 10 million acre feet of water, a little more than 20 percent of the water used in California. – something that doesn’t go unnoticed in a fifth year of drought.
Yet, California growers expect to harvest 870,000 acres of alfalfa this year, up 10 percent from 790,000 in 2015, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services in California. It regularly ranks in the top 10 crops in California, with alfalfa ranking 10th with a value of $1.3 billion in 2014, according the latest statistics available.

Growers irrigate alfalfa fields after each cutting.
Call it a Steady Eddie crop without the fancy Madison Avenue slogans as the state’s top two crops – milk at $9.4 billion (remember “Got Milk”) and almonds at $5.9 billion (“A Can A Day”). It’s a sure bet you’ll never hear “Got Hay” or “A Bale a Day is All We Ask” slogans over the air waves.
The bottom line, Carlos says, “Farmers need alfalfa for feed.” 

Yes, farmers tout the value of growing this perennial crop, which can last several years. (Carlos has seen one alfalfa field remain productive for six years.) The crop supports the dairy industry and its more than 5 million cows across the state. Beef cattle and horses feed on it too. Alfalfa is considered the premier feed.

There are other benefits.

Dairy cows love to feed on alfalfa.
Alfalfa is a legume and like beans the crop puts nitrogen back into the ground.  By feeding the soil, alfalfa makes for a good rotation crop. Alfalfa also is good for wildlife, housing insects for birds to feed on.

Right now, Carlos reports the alfalfa harvest is in full swing. Growers were cutting last week and more will follow suit. Pests aren’t a major problem – although Carlos is keeping a keen eye out for worms.

“Alfalfa is going strong. It looks like we have another month or more to go this season,” Carlos says.